Kemper, Valley Catholic football confident going to Cowapa, 4A ranks

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior defensive back/wide receiver Jacob Vincent said he believes the Valiants have the necessary talent to vie for a Cowapa League title.

If there’s one Valiant who can provide the inside scoop on the newfangled 4A landscape, the rugged Cowapa League and what it’ll take for Valley Catholic to contend this year, on the state level, it’s Clay Kemper.

A Banks native who grew up playing youth and middle football with many of the current Brave players, Kemper saw firsthand how the rural schools infiltrating the Cowapa prefer to play.

Banks (who as Kemper eagerly points out Valley plays on Sep. 17), Scappoose, Seaside and Yamhill-Carlton — the top three finishers in Cowapa last year — relish bruising football and benefit from their brawn in the trenches by running the rock and taking pride in the physicality battle upfront. Yet, though these cornfed contenders are big and savage, they aren’t the fleetest of foot. Physically, they’ll hang for sure, but turn the game into a relay race of sorts on Valley’s sparkling new fast-track, synthetic surface field, and their stocky legs might not keep pace.

In Kemper’s estimation, with the way Valley’s turning up its already high-speed, spread zone-read offense to full-tilt, getting off a play every 20 seconds or so, hardly any of the Valiants’ new conference rivals can equal their overall team speed and athleticism.

“I think we can win a Cowapa League title,” said Kemper. “We’ll compete, easily. Just because we’re a small school, moving up, that doesn’t mean we’ll be at the bottom of the league. There’s a big difference in size and the overall aura of football at 4A. Football is just a big sport in the Cowapa League. So, I think with the new field and the excitement around this team, it’s key we come out strong and prove that football is just as big to us.”

“I don’t want anything to be easy or handed to us,” said senior wide receiver Jacob Vincent. “Going up to the Cowapa, I’m just happy we get to compete with Banks, Scappoose and the rest of the those schools. We’re faster, and we’ve matured since freshmen year. I think we can easily contend with any team in the Cowapa.”

Initially, speeding up head coach Doug Ierardi’s offense was worrisome to Kemper because of Valley’s lack of size, but the running back said each of the Valiants has bought into the transition. Rather than huddle after every play, the Valiants are incorporating much more of a hurry-up system with the goal of doubling their amount of plays from last season in mind. The hope is dominating time of possession and putting opponents back on their heels with hard tempo and getting plays in quicker to quarterbacks Aidan Welsh and Alex Tranquill will give Valley the upper hand offensively and gas the other team.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic sophomore quarterback Aidan Welsh started all but one of the Valiants contests last season after Carter Buuck went down with an injury.

“I’m amazed at how well everyone’s doing it,” said Vincent. “We’ve all played varsity since our freshmen year, so we know how to adapt to a new offense. Everything’s going really well so far.”

As an all-league caliber bellcow who was Valley’s feature back last year as a junior, Kemper’s playing both tailback and slotback, which will give the senior more opportunities to get the ball in ideal scenarios and deploy his game-changing speed on the outside. Kemper said he prefers ratcheting up the speed of the game to match Valley’s personnel and the amount of healthy bodies on the roster.

“I love it,” said Kemper. “The faster pace is awesome because we don’t have a lot of big linemen, so speeding it up will help us out a lot. Honestly, we don’t care if the defense knows what’s coming. We’ll tell them what play we’re running. And, if they stop us, we’ll switch it up because we have different plays in the playbook.

Valley has skilled, big-time athletes all over the field in Kemper, Vincent, Sherwood High transfer Avery Jones, Kazuma Lane, Alex Hyland, and JD Menkens who relish catching the rock with room to run and making defensive backs miss in the open field.

Additionally, the Valiant offensive line of Drew VanderZanden, Conner Williams, Brian Oakes, Rob Woodruff and Jeff Williams among others are all athletic enough to get off the ball quickly and pave lanes on the perimeter. The swiftness of the spread, coupled with Valley’s high conditioning level as a team and the amount of experience returning to the field could be overwhelming for other teams to stop, Vincent said. Trying to catch Valley’s speedsters on the outside is tough enough in the game’s opening stages. But when crunch time comes around in the second half and the Valiants are still fresh while their opponents grabbing their knees gasping for air, that’s when Valley wants to be at its best.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior linebacker/tight end Kazuma Lane is one of many Valiants expected to contribute on both sides of the football this season.

“When the defense is catching their breath, we’re getting plays in from the sideline,” said Vincent. “The defense gets tired, then our plays are more efficient, and with our conditioning we can keep going long into the fourth quarter. This offense is perfect for us. Because we have good skill players and we’re all quick, we can just go fast, fast, fast. We don’t have one or two guys that the defense can key in on because they know where the ball’s going 90 percent of the time. They can double-team all of us. Every skill guys on the field is capable of making a huge play.”

Last year’s Valiant squad only graduated four seniors, which should help accelerate the 4A learning curve and the initial adjustment to the new conference. There’s a continuity amongst the senior class particularly because most of the upperclassmen were together as freshmen when Valley was somewhat barren and on the rebound. They’ve witnessed the program grow into a challenger that’s capable of going over .500 in the win-loss column every year, and more significantly they’ve accumulated invaluable game experience that should payoff in their final seasons as Valiants. Even the younger players such as Welsh, who was pressed into duty in the second game of the season last year when Carter Buuck went down with a season-ending shoulder injury and helped guide Valley to the first round of the 3A playoffs, have a double-digit amount of game under their belts.

“This isn’t something new,” said Vincent. “We’ve done this since freshmen year, so we have a lot more experience. Everything feels like it’s falling into place and we can contend with anybody.”

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