At a "passing day" a few weeks ago, Wilsonville gained confidence and chemistry playing against a host of 6A schools.

Photo Credit: JEFF GOODMAN - Lane Hull (9) is competing for starting running back responsibillities.

The Wilsonville High School football team's skill position and exterior defensive players left the lineman and special teamers at home recently to participate in a seven-on-seven no-pads “passing day” at Tigard High.

For senior running back Lane Hull, the July 19 exercise reinforced his belief that Wilsonville’s talent pool is ocean deep.

He said not many teams were able to thwart the Wildcats array of artillery.

“We had a lot of guys make big plays. We’re a hard team to stop defensively,” Hull said.

However, Wilsonville head coach Adam Guenther utilized the day not to legitimize his team’s chances next season, but to facilitate learning and chemistry development.

In fact, he often let the other team know he wanted to run a play over again to improve execution and awareness.

“If we need a play run again, the other team will line up without a problem. The whole point was to create timing between quarterbacks and receivers. You can’t just run it once and expect it to work,” Guenther said.

Besides, Guenther doesn’t even believe seven-on-seven constitutes as real football.

“It gives you an opportunity to hone some of the skills, but it’s not football,” he said.

For the last four seasons, Guenther’s squads have achieved respectable results. The team made four straight playoff appearances and finished second in the Northwest Oregon Conference last season. However, Guenther isn’t satisfied and believes his players must work harder to manifest a deep run in the state playoffs.

“Our expectations are higher. In order to go places you’ve never gone, you have to do things you’ve never done before,” he said.

Guenther said every team he’s coached has taken on a distinct personality. This year, he describes his team as “blue-collar” and “workmanlike.”

“Kids are taking it more seriously, do more conditioning, are more upbeat and more intense,” Guenther said.

High school coaches everywhere use conditioning as a major point of emphasis during summers leading up to the season. Coach Guenther is no different. But with a revamped weight room program, he wants to nurture not just body development, but also mind development.

“We don’t just train your body, we train your mind. Are you going to let fatigue get the better of you, or are you going to get the better of it?” Guenther said.

At Tigard, Wilsonville squared off against Century, Sheldon, Clackamas, Oregon City, Tigard and Glencoe and played for six hours, twice the length of a typical football game. By the end of the day, players were exhausted and forced to reach for any bit of energy they had left.

“The first two games they fought to try to get reps in, by the end of the day they said to their teammates, ‘no, you can go, no you can go,’” Guenther said.

Predictably, after just six practices, Guenther said the team has a lot of work to do from an execution standpoint.

“Our weakest point is making sure we know what we need to do. We have three months to go now so we just have to get good at it,” he said.

He believes the little things make all the difference in the world. “Football can be a game of inches. You have to make sure you know what your job is and the scoreboard takes care of itself. Right now, we’re still fine-tuning stuff,” he said.

Still, Guenther is excited to have so much to work with this season. He said: “We have a lot of talented kids. My job is to get as many weapons on the field at once.”

But when you have athletes in spades, someone is going to have to take a backseat.

Hull is currently battling it out with Cole Wilson and Nate Burke for primary running back responsibilities. He’s very complementary of his teammates and describes Burke as an athlete who’s lethal in space and Wilson as a bruiser up the middle.

“If you let him (Burke) use his quickness he’ll beat you nine out of 10 times. If you try to tackle Cole by yourself, it’s not going to be very pretty,” he said.

Hull said Burke is the most spectacular athlete on the team because of his dust-leaving speed and agility and hinted that we’ll likely see him slotted all over the field in the fall.

Hull considers himself more of a hybrid between Wilson and Burke. While he says he has the size to be a power running back and even a fullback, he also prides himself on juking defenders silly.

Hull is all about team success, but wants to have a stellar season individually to garner collegiate interest.

“I would love to go play at the next level. Ever since third grade I’ve wanted to win a state championship and earn a scholarship,” he said.

He added: “I may not get the opportunity I want but they are still my friends. If they do well, as long as we’re scoring touchdowns and marching down the field, that’s all that matters.”

At the quarterback position, Elijah Benedick, who started half of last season, is competing against West Linn transfer Connor Neville. He said while the battle is dead even at this point, Benedick is more comfortable running the offense because of his experience last year.

“He doesn’t have a leg up. He has better understanding, but Connor is a student of the game. They are both doing great,” Guenther said.

Hull is impressed with Neville’s improvement since day one of practice. “Connor has improved leaps and bounds since the first week. He threw a lot of picks at first, but he’s worked on it and settled in,” he said.

Hull pointed out that both players are dual-threats who can throw a deep ball spiral and tuck and run for a first down when need be. However, he gives Benedick the slight edge in terms of scrambling.

Guenther said the cornerback and wide receiver starting spots are also up for grabs.

Hull, who played linebacker last year, will play some outside linebacker along with his running back duties. He said the Wildcats defense was stout against every team besides Sherwood last season and nostalgically recalled the team grabbing three interceptions on Parkrose’s first few plays from scrimmage. He expects the Wildcats to continue to force turnovers.

“Our defense will pick you off. I don’t see how we won’t be good defensively next year,” he said.

He noted Kaden Floyd and Andre Morris as players who can occupy vast amounts of space and pick off quarterbacks when opportunities exist.

Guenther estimates the roster will consist of 26-28 seniors, 24 juniors and a few sophomores.

Guenther said Wilsonville remained competitive with every team besides one at “Passing Day” and believes the day was a valuable use of a Saturday in the middle of summer.

He said: “Any time you can get guys around to throw ball around is a good day in my mind.”

Though his team has been practicing for only a couple weeks, Hull feels comfortable setting the bar sky high.

Hull said: “This is the year we could be a team you see pretty far down the road in the playoffs. Our goal is to play in November.”

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