Despite some key graduations, the Lakers arent expected to relinquish the moniker of state champs without a fight

by: VERN UYETAKE - Clockwise from left, Austin Faunce, Jack Anderson, Mitch Lomax, Kyle Peterson, Noah Peterson, J.B. Holmes and Justen Ruppe take the reins for the Lakers this year as the team looks to repeat after capturing its first football state title.Lake Oswego began practices this August in unfamiliar territory. Gone was prevailing question of “will this be the year?” The Lakers are the defending state champions which is new ground for the team, but in terms of the way the team is going about its business, there doesn't appear to be a noticeable difference.

“I don't ever hear the kids talk about it. They've already moved on. It's a whole new year and a new group of guys and they just want to carry on the tradition,” coach Steve Coury.

Lake Oswego graduated some big names last year like tailback Steven Long, quarterback Alex Matthews and receiver Stevie Coury. But while those skill positions won't be easy to replace, the Lakers are returning a very solid infrastructure, including an experienced offensive line and a defense that could rank among the best in the state.

“We replace an awful lot of guys, which comes with the territory, but it's a very good nucleus and these guys know how to act,” Coury said.

Lake Oswego's offensive line returns three starters in center Kyle Peterson and guards Noah Peterson and Austin Faunce and they will be bolstered by tackles Reid Penny and Colin Calhoun. That experienced front should make life easier for the Lake Oswego offense which will likely be fairly balanced again this year.

“You always want to be balanced. We might be a little more tilted to the run early in the season with our line,” Coury said.

Getting the bulk of the carries for Lake Oswego will be J.B. Holmes who saw a decent amount of action last year spelling Long and put up some big numbers of his own.

Spencer Anderson will also see the ball as a bruising change-of-pace back.

Taking the snaps for Lake Oswego will be Justen Ruppe.

“He's ready to take the reins. He's got a very strong arm and he doest all the little things,” Coury said.

Harrison Ramey will also see time behind center, coming back after an injury last year.

“We've got some depth there and they're both good leaders,” Coury said.

The Lakers have a dangerous and athletic receiving corps with returners Jack Anderson and Connor Griffin along with Romello Washington.

“Romello's a guy who's been waiting in the wings and I think some people are going to see him and say 'where did he come from?'”

Tight ends Mitch Lomax and Neil Wagner could also be big targets in the offense.

One of the many perks to the Lakers being so dominant last year was that a large number of players got to see meaningful minutes, giving players who have now moved into starting positions, some valuable experience.

“You can do nothing but benefit from a season like last year because we got a lot of guys playing time in a lot of games,” Coury said.

Defensively the Lakers may give opponents fits this year. Lomax and Nick Underwood are a talented tandem at linebacker and, up front, Faunce, Spencer Anderson and Reid Martin give the Lakers size and speed.

Jack Anderson will anchor Lake Oswego's secondary and will look to pick up where he left off as one of the state's interception leaders last year. He will be joined by Wagner, Washington and Jordan Horak.

“We should be pretty solid on defense and we have some young guys too that give us some depth there,” Coury said.

Kicking for Lake Oswego this year is soccer player Griffin Graves who came out for the team this year.

The Lakers may have a bit bigger of a target on their backs this year, especially when the playoffs roll around but it's business as usual for the program.

Lake Oswego has reloaded and could be in the mix to repeat.

“We're talented enough to be there. The last 10 to 12 years we've been one of those teams that was in the running and I think we'll be very good before we're done,” Coury said.

Lake Oswego started the season 1-0 with a convincing shutout win over Olympia, Wash. and the Lakers will play Centennial and Central Catholic before opening up play in the Three Rivers League, which could be as good as it's been in years.

“I think the league is so much better this year. Oregon City's been a sleeping giant and they might be awake now. Tom (Smythe)'s had time to get Lakeridge playing really good football, I think Mike (Fanger) was an excellent choice at West Linn and Canby's going to be one of the top teams in the league if not the top,” Coury said.

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