Legendary football coach Mouse Davis has made a name for himself at all levels, but in Hillsboro he will always be remembered for a championship season in 73

Close to 40 years have passed, but Mouse Davis can still close his eyes and see plays that his Hillsboro High football team made during its 1973 state championship season.

The legendary football coach, now 80 years old, effortlessly recalled a game early in the season against Klamath Falls. Hillsboro was facing a fourth-and-10 from its own 20-yard line. Davis elected to go for it. Quarterback Brad Neffendorf dropped back and threw a pass to receiver Billy Keller. Once he caught the ball, Keller was gone, racing 80 yards for the touchdown.

“That blew the game open,” Davis says, the warmth of nostalgia filling his voice. “I can still see some of the players making those plays that blow games out.”

Davis would go on to become a legendary football coach with a mountain of credentials. Back in the early ‘70s, though, he was simply a prep coach who had invented a new and ingenious “run and shoot offense.”

Davis had been coaching football for around a dozen years when the job opened up at Hillsboro.

“The principal who hired me was Jim Davis,” Mouse Davis says. “He was a football coach who had formerly had great success at Hillsboro High School. He was very excited about the program. I knew him and because of the previous experiences that I had in football, he hired me.”

Football had once been king at Hillsboro High. Ad Rutschman had led the team to a state championship in 1966. But, after Rutschman left for Linfield, the program fell on bad times.

“They had been very good,” Davis says. “Ad had won a state championship, but then he went on to Linfield and the program went downhill. It was still there. They just hadn’t had any success.”

When he took the helm at Hilhi in 1971, Davis discovered quite a bit about the kind of town Hillsboro was and the kind of blood that pumped through his players’ veins.

“The kids really wanted it,” Davis says. “They had Hillsboro blood in them. Hillsboro blood means that you’ve got a little football in your blood.”

Throughout his career, Davis never truly stopped tinkering with and evolving his pass-heavy run and shoot offense. By the time he came to Hillsboro, though, the offense was well established.

After several bad seasons, the Hillsboro players were eager to allow Davis to guide them however he wanted.

“The kids were excited about getting a change and doing something different,” Davis says. “That’s always true when you’re down and looking to go up. They jumped on it and had a strong desire to do what we did.”

Davis’ run and shoot offense soon left opposing defenses without much of a prayer of stopping Hillsboro.

“If it’s not the best offense, it’s certainly as good as any offense that has come down the pike,” Davis says.

But, like any scheme, the “run and shoot” requires execution from the players.

“The truth is that it’s a very sound offense that requires execution,” Davis says. “Good players win for you. If you’re a coach, you need good players to execute for you. Personnel wins for you. I had great players. They executed extremely well.

“You have good players, you win. If you have really bad players, you can be a great, great coach and your team will still be really average. If you have good players and you get very good coaching, you’re going to have very good success. If you have great players or great coaching, that’s when you score a lot of points.”

In 1973, Hillsboro put everything together. The culmination was a 35-21 victory over Medford at Autzen stadium.

Winning the state title was special both for Davis and the players whom he had brought to the promised land.

“It’s always good on both sides of the ledger, player and coach,” Davis says. “It’s always special when you win a state championship. Any time you win everything — whether it’s at the high school level, college level, pro level — when you win it all that’s always special.

“That group of players is always special. Anyone who wins a state championship and doesn’t think it’s great, they’ve got to be confused.”

After winning it all, Davis left Hillsboro for Portland State, where he became a true coaching legend as his offenses put up gaudy numbers.

Davis has coached at just about every level of football. He says that despite the different amounts of media attention, he has enjoyed his time at each of those levels.

“I’ve enjoyed every level that I’ve coached,” Davis says. “I coached at the grade school level, high school level, small college level, medium sized college level, big college level, in the pros ... all of them are very enjoyable with the relationship you have with the players.”

Of course it was always more enjoyable for Davis when his teams were able to win championships.

“It’s the kind of profession where you have to win if you’re going to stay in,” Davis says. “It’s no fun unless you do win. You work way too hard to lose. And the losses are much, much worse than the wins are good.

“But, the wins are very important. That’s why winning a championship is so big. You’ve put so much of your life into your championship.”

Davis’ most recent coaching stint was at the University of Hawaii, which ended two seasons ago.

Davis laughs when asked what he is doing with himself without COURTESY PHOTO - Former Portland State football coach Mouse Davis talks to one of his players during his stint with the Vikings in the early 1970s.

“That’s a helluva question,” Davis says. “Not a helluva lot. I play a little golf. Help the wife around the house. I still give clinics and that sort of thing. That’s about it. Slow and easy. Nothing too dramatic.”

Davis realizes that he may never coach football again, but he is not completely ruling it out.

“You don’t know,” he says. “You never say never. The fact that I turned 80 the other day, there’s a possibility that I won’t coach. But, it’s not beyond the realm of reality. It’s something that I really enjoy. I really enjoy being around the players. And we’ve had great success. It’s a fun thing. The chances of me coaching again are relatively small. But, you never know.”

Even if he does not ever coach again, Davis still has a lifetime of memories and relationships to look back on. The memories and relationships that he built at Hillsboro will always be special to him.

“We had a (1973 Hillsboro state championship) reunion a few years ago,” Davis says. “When I walked in and saw the guys sitting there, I said, ‘No wonder you won it, you guys are bigger than barns.’ Of course they had all gained about 40 pounds since the previous time I saw them.

“Anytime you win it all at any level, then that’s special and those players are special.”

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