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Young stars ready for the 'next level'

Barner, Zagunis, Tyner, others all seeking more success


by: JOHN LARIVIERE - Kenjon Barner, running back from the University of Oregon, accepts the Bill Hayward Amateur Athlete of the Year Award for men, as presenter and former UO quarterback Joey Harrington looks on Sunday at Nike.Kenjon Barner was at Oregon during an unprecedented run that saw the Ducks go to four consecutive BCS games and win both a Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. The running back, who was honored at Sunday’s Oregon Sports Awards as the state’s top amateur athlete in 2012, also created some deep personal bonds.

Not only did Barner, from Lynwood, Calif., make friends that he expects to have for the rest of his life, but also while at Oregon he met his girlfriend, Kylie Sieverson. The couple are expecting a son on May 14. They plan to name him either Kingston or Kinley.

“My time at Oregon, I can’t even really put it into words. It was just a blessing,” said Barner, who was named winner of the Bill Hayward Amateur Athlete of the Year honor for men. “I made the best friends that a guy can ever have in life, met a beautiful woman, and I’m having a baby by her. So my time at Oregon has been amazing.”

Barner, 23, believes that his decision to return to the Ducks for the 2012 (his senior) season helped him get ready for the NFL, which is where he hopes to be playing next season.

“One of the best decisions I could’ve ever made,” Barner said, of not leaving school a year early. “Last year, if I would’ve left I wouldn’t have been ready. Coming back and getting another year of experience under Coach (Chip) Kelly and Coach (Gary) Campbell and the rest of the coaching staff gave me the extra year of preparation that I needed.

“Obviously, there’s still a lot of things that you’re going to learn. But I feel like I’m ready for the next level.”

Barner returned to the state last week for the show. He has been preparing for the NFL combine, which starts Feb. 20, and his “Pro Day,” which will be in March.

“I’m doing pretty well,” Barner said. “I’m making a lot of strides toward where I want to be. I have another week and a half left, so I still have some time to prepare. Overall, everything has been going well.”

Barner is not putting any ceiling on how high he might be able to go on draft day.

“I want to go as high as I can possibly go,” he said. “The highest you can go is in the first round. Everybody going into the draft wants to be there. But there’s a lot of work that you have to put in.”

Mariel Zagunis didn’t win a third consecutive gold medal in women’s saber at the London Olympics last summer. She lost in the semifinals, after victories in 2004 and 2008. But the 27-year-old Beaverton fencer has put the disappointment behind her.

“At some point, you have to realize that it is what it is and there’s nothing you can do to change it,” said Zagunis, a celebrity presenter at the Oregon Sports Awards. “I’m focusing all my efforts on having a really good 2013 season and performing well at the world championships in August.

“No matter what happens, you’re always learning from your mistakes,” Zagunis said. “It’s something I’m using to help me improve as a fencer and as a competitor. You have to go with the positive.”

Zagunis is back in competition.

“I just kicked off my season,” she said. “I took a nice long break after the London Olympics. And then it was back to the real world and back to training. I had my first two World Cups in Europe just a week ago.”

She placed fifth in a Cup event in London, then earned a bronze medal in a tournament at Orleans, France.

“I’m just going to go for the next four years at full throttle,” she said.

While she is not looking too far ahead, Zagunis does have plans to recapture the gold medal in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“You have to take it one year at a time,” Zagunis said. “By the time Rio comes around, I’m not going to be thinking about what happened (in London).”

Running back Thomas Tyner did just about everything there was to do on the football field during his playing days at Aloha High. He said winning the Prep Football Player of the Year Award and the Johnny Carpenter Prep Athlete of the Year Award for Class 6A-5A boys was a fitting end to his career.

“This is a nice way to finish my senior year in high school,” Tyner said. “Being mentioned among some of the best athletes in the state of Oregon is an honor. I feel blessed to win these awards.”

Tyner said he did not waffle on his decision to play for Oregon next year after former coach Kelly left for the NFL and Mark Helfrich took the helm.

“I knew that Helfrich has been with Oregon for a while,” Tyner said. “There’s not going to be any changes, so nothing changed.”

Tyner will be heading to Eugene early to participate in spring practice.

“I want to learn the system,” he said. “It’s a whole new system. I came from a pro-style offense, and they run a spread. I want to pick it up fast and hopefully get on the field as soon as I can.

“That’s why I picked Oregon, because I saw myself doing well and succeeding in their system. I have speed, and I feel like Oregon will allow me to use my speed the most.”

Lake Oswego High’s Calvin Hermanson was thrilled to be honored Sunday as the state’s top prep boys basketball player. He was just as thrilled to rub shoulders with ESPN SportsCenter anchor and Oregon Sports Awards Show host Neil Everett before the festivities at Nike.

“It’s incredible,” Hermanson said. “With all the talent in Oregon, being able to be mentioned here is crazy. Seeing all the people before the show ... being in the same room as Neil Everett is cool. I see him on TV almost every day. I love it.”

Last season, the Lakers came up just short in the 6A finals against Jesuit. This year, Hermanson wants to set that right.

“The goal is to win the state championship — take care of the business that we didn’t take care of last year,” he said. “I love our team this year. The team is looking great and is really deep. We’re excited to make a big tournament run.”

Former Oregon Ducks tight end David Paulson, a celebrity award presenter, found the transition from Pac-12 competition to playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers a challenge. Overall, though, Paulson felt that he had a successful rookie season in 2012.

“You try to learn a lot from the veterans, and we had some great coaches,” he said.” It was definitely a big jump. The team could’ve done better. But, for the first season, it went really well for me. I got to play quite a bit, and learned a lot. I’ve just got to keep working.

“I’ll try to improve my technique and keep getting stronger.”

After a standout senior baseball season, Westview High’s Carson Kelly was picked by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft. Suddenly, Kelly had a difficult decision to make: Go to college, or go pro? After much deliberation, Kelly finally decided to turn pro.

“It was very difficult, and it came down to the wire,” said Kelly, who was honored as the state’s Prep Baseball Player of the Year. “But, in the end, an opportunity presented itself to play professional baseball, and I decided to pursue that.”

Kelly, 18, played 56 games last year for the 39-28 Johnson City (Tenn.) Cardinals. Primarily a third baseman with the Rookie Appalachian League team, Kelly hit .225, with nine home runs, 10 doubles and 25 RBIs in 213 at-bats.

He is using this winter to work on his game so that he can come back a better player this spring.

“It’s just understanding myself,” Kelly said. “I went through my first season, and it was tough. Now I’m learning a lot of new things, and I’m taking it into this season. I’m just ready for spring training to start.”

Former Oregon State and Trail Blazers big man Steve Johnson was delighted to present the awards for best male and female prep basketball players.

“That’s a sport that I love,” Johnson said. “It was an honor for me to be able to present because they had two really good athletes (Hermanson and Springfield’s Mercedes Russell) who ended up winning it. There was a good selection, but those two stood out.”

Johnson also enjoyed being the first presenter.

“It was cool because I was the first one on,” he said. “I was able to present, and now I can go enjoy the rest of the show.”

Haley Crouser spent her junior year at Gresham High winning the U.S. junior national javelin title and setting a national record with a throw of 181 feet, 2 inches.

The dual Oregon Sports Awards winner (top female track and field performer and Female Prep Athlete of the Year for 6A-5A) admits that her personal-best marks may be difficult to duplicate.

“I got all the goals that I wanted to,” Crouser said. “I wanted to get the national record and compete in the Olympic Trials. I was just really happy with it. It’s going to be tough next year to catch those marks, but that’s what I’m going for.”

A highlight of Crouser’s 2012 season was competing in the javelin at the Trials.

“It was a really good experience, because I had been looking up to those people and watching them compete. Then I was right there with them,” she said. “It was a really good experience that hopefully paves the way to the next Olympic Trials.”

Crouser will attend Oregon, where she hopes that the Duck coaches can help develop her talents even more.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I can’t wait. Next year is going to be a really different experience because I’ve worked with the same coaches my whole life. But it’s going to be for the best.”

Ariel Viera became one of a select group of Oregon girls soccer players to score more than 100 goals in their careers. She totaled 116 in four seasons at Scappoose High with 116.

“That was pretty awesome,” Viera said Sunday, after she was named the state’s Prep Female Soccer Player of the Year.

When Viera goes to University of Portland next school year, though, she says that she will likely be trying to stop other players from scoring.

“Now I’m going to go to college and play defense, which will be pretty different,” she said. “But I definitely look forward to it.”

Even though he is now a Basketball Hall of Famer, Trail Blazers broadfcasting legend Bill Schonely still made time to speak at the Oregon Sports Awards, which ran from 1948-1996 as the Bill Hayward Banquet of Champions, then were discontinued until the Oregon Sports Awards were created and honored the state’s best from 2001.

“I’ve enjoyed it all these years, beginning back in 1970 when it was still the Bill Hayward Banquet,” Schonely said. “Then it went away for a while. And now, it’s just a great pleasure to meet all these young people and see what they’ve accomplished and how they’re going on to bigger and better things.

“It’s a terrific thing for the state of Oregon. If I can be a part of it, I want to.”