Following the first scrimmage of the Tigard Passing Day, Wilsonville head football coach Adam Guenther was disheartened.
Fewer players showed up than he would have liked and the players that did looked sleepy during a 9 a.m. drubbing at the hands of the Clackamas Cavaliers.
But by the end of the day, his mood had flipped.
After a rough start, the Wildcats played competitively against Sunset, Churchill, Tigard and Southridge in the final four 7-on-7 scrimmages Saturday, July 15 at Tigard High School.
"It was an opportunity for other people to step up and that's what they did," Guenther said. "The first game was a wake up call and I think we competed well the rest of the way."
Though the passing day didn't feature line play or hand-offs, it marked an early glimpse of the Wildcats' revamped aerial attack.
Last year, quarterback Connor Neville and recievers Jonny Neville, Harrison Steiger and Andrew Merrick spearheaded one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the state and helped lead the team to the state championship game. The team utilized a spread offense and passed the ball in more than 70 percent of its plays.
This year's offense is talented but much less experienced.
Nathan Overholt, who started a few games as a sophomore and played significant minutes in the Wildcats' state championship game loss, is competing with Derek Irby for the starting quarterback job.
Overholt unleashed a few uncanny passes, including a dime to Jonah Gomez along the sidelines for a touchdown against Tigard, and also made a few mistakes — as is to be expected at this time of the year.
"Nathan had glimpes of balls that were incredible. You just have to stand up there and deliver a strike. We look for consistency," Guenther said.
Irby started on junior varsity last year and spelled Overholt throughout the morning and early afternoon.
"That spot is up for grabs. We're going to keep battling thorugh the summer. Both players have progressed well. Grant's a great kid and makes pretty good reads and his timing will only get better," Guenther said.
Cooper Mootz is the most experienced returning skill positiion player, earned Honorable Mention All-League honors as a sophomore last season and is a leading candidate to be the Wildcats' starting running back next season. Mootz underwent succesful offseason surgery to fix his aortic arch and Guenther says he looks as good as ever.
"Cooper is doing great. He's in the best shape I've seen him," Guenther said.
Also, Gomez, Jacob Herr, Isaiah Haqq, Cade Edmondson, Draco Bynum and Ryan Napoli caught a few balls during the scrimmages.
Edmondson is a transfer from Horizon Christian and Guenther expects him to fill the strong safety spot next season.
"You get opportunities and Cade seized it. He's still learning the process but considering that he did great yesterday," Guenther said. "Jonah made a bunch of great plays, Napoli gets better every time he steps on the field. Isaiah Haqq was a stud and was catching everything."
Guenther also expects Bynum, a 2016 Second Team All-State Defensive Lineman, to play a larger role in the Wildcat passing attack than he did last season — where he mostly filled in during goal line situations.
"He'll probably play a little tight end for us. He's a big body, has pretty good hands and can run pretty well. I wouldn't want to be the (defensive back) that tries to tackle him," Guenther said.
With potential defensive starters in Austin Kness and Trevor Antonson absent, Gomez, Irby, Mootz, and Herr filled in as defensive backs and returning starter Manav Raghubansh held down the fort at the linebacker position.
With so much offensive talent having graduated and Bynum and fellow defensive line standout AJ Burkhead returning, Guenther expects defense to be the Wildcats' strength next season and would like to run the ball more consistently than last season.
"I'd like to see more balance. We don't have the luxury of the skill kids we had last year but the skill kids this year will be right there. Last year people knew we would pass and so we could set up the run," Guenther said. "If we can go 50-50 I'll be thrilled."
Still, Guenther isn't overhauling the entire system.
"Our core philosophy and terminology doesn't change. The only thing that changes is the personnel," he said.
Guenther stresses to his players that it's acceptable to feel fatigued but not to act tired on the field. He says they exemplified this axiom with the way they closed out the Tigard Passing Day.
"I loved how it ended. The kids were tired but they kept fighting and they kept competing," Guenther said.