The Aloha senior leads his team to a first-ever state football title and wins Male Athlete of the Year honors
by: Miles Vance IN HIS ELEMENT — Aloha’s James Euscher stood tall in helping the Warriors win their first-ever state football title this year.

ALOHA - James Euscher didn't score a single touchdown for the Aloha football team during his senior year.

Nor did he pick off a pass, kick a field goal or rush for 100 yards.

But make no mistake about it - both literally and figuratively, Euscher may have been the biggest factor in the Warriors' best season ever.

Euscher, 18 and a 6-foot-7, 275-pound lineman who will play at the University of Oregon next year, anchored the line on both sides of the football for Aloha's first-ever state championship team. On offense, he led a unit that just flat ran opponents off the field, opening holes for celebrated stars Thomas Tyner and John Shaffer. And on defense, he led a crew that stopped foes better than anyone else in the state.

In the winter season, he transitioned into a starting post role for the competitive Aloha basketball team, the only Oregon team to beat eventual state champion Jesuit this season. And in the spring, Euscher stepped forward again to win his second straight Metro League crown in the shot put, and qualified for state in both the shot put and the javelin.

Now, to cap his senior year, Euscher has been named the Valley Times' Male Athlete of the Year for the 2010-11 school year. Euscher shares the award, given annually to the top graduating senior from the Beaverton Valley Times' coverage area, with Westview's Phil Belding. The profile on Belding, a varsity competitor in football, basketball and baseball, appeared in last week's edition of the Valley Times.

It wasn't always pancaked defensive linemen, blocked shots and track titles for Euscher, though.

Before reaching high school, Euscher was still a baseball player (one of the area's top pitchers), a defensive-minded basketball player, and a football lineman whose teams were rarely better .500.

And once he got to Aloha, Euscher had to work his way into the increasingly competitive varsity football lineup, gave up on baseball due to a sore arm and suffered through ineligibility that cost him his sophomore basketball and track seasons.

'It hurt, but I learned from (being ineligible),' Euscher said. 'I started to get pretty serious about track. I hated it when people would say it wasn't my sport. I decided I needed to make it important.'

With the tough lessons of his sophomore year behind him, Euscher and his Aloha teammates accomplished in the fall of 2009 a goal that many said they'd never accomplish - they reached the Class 6A state playoffs in football for the first time since 1986.

'Junior year was really exciting,' he said. 'We started to turn it around and the team concept was there. We wanted to go to the state playoffs and we made that our goal.'

The Warriors also won their playoff debut that year, then held top-ranked eventual state champion Sheldon to its lowest point total of the season in round two.

More importantly, Euscher and the Warriors set the table for the upcoming historic 2010 campaign.

'We were sad after the loss (to Sheldon) but it just made us determined to come out for workouts in the spring and summer,' Euscher said. 'The key for us was attendance - you had to come to the meetings, come to the practices, come to the weight room to work out. We'd call people up and hold people accountable and make sure they got there.'

'I can't say enough good things about James,' said Aloha coach Chris Casey. 'He's one of the key, key reasons for our championship this year. He really showed a lot of leadership.'

That hard work yielded great rewards during Euscher's senior year, but even then, the Warriors had to clear a few hurdles and had to learn a couple hard lessons.

Aloha opened the year with a lackluster 24-14 win over Lincoln, then stumbled in week two, falling 33-21 to Tualatin, the team the Warriors would eventually meet in the state championship game.

'After we lost that game, we knew we didn't want to have that feeling again,' Euscher said. 'People were still trying to find their roles, but we needed them to be who they are, to do what they could do.'

The Warriors began to find themselves, and did it quickly after that, and thanks to that evolution and to Euscher himself, the Warriors never did have to feel that way again.

Aloha hammered McKay 54-8 in week three and took off on a 12-game winning streak that would re-write Warrior football history.

After entering league play at 3-1, Aloha just flat dropped the hammer in Metro League play, winning five straight games to claim their first league title since 1984, and outscoring their opponents 40-11 in the process.

Given Aloha's two previous decades of football futility, every one of those five wins was precious, but the 38-25 victory over Jesuit was something special.

The Warriors scored four touchdowns on plays of 48 yards or longer and broke open a 14-13 game by outscoring the Crusaders 24-6 to beat Jesuit for the first time in 25 years.

'That was the craziest game I've ever played,' Euscher said. 'We had over 5,000 people there, and without the crowd, I don't know if we could have gone the whole mile.'

Euscher and the Warriors just kept rolling after that, winning their first three playoff games by an average score of 35-10, edging past Lake Oswego 17-16 in the semifinal, and then getting their chance at Tualatin again in the state championship.

They made the most of that chance, racing out to a 17-0 halftime lead, stretching that edge to 24-0 in the third and walking away with a 34-13 victory, the first state football championship in the school's 42-year history.

'The thing I'll remember most is (Jesse Bresser's) interception,' Euscher said, referring to the senior linebacker's pick and 40-yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter. 'That took all their hope away. After that, we were on a roll. Our defense was the best in the state and we just took it away.'

And everyone knew that Euscher had played as big a role as anyone in helping the Warriors complete their historic turnaround.

'He was a great character kid,' Casey said. 'He was always a force in football, but this year, he really took on a leadership role with the linemen.'

Not Just a Football Player

As huge a role as football played in Euscher's senior year, he had lots of sports left ahead of him.

In basketball, he started at post and gave the Warriors a strong defensive presence, big-time rebounding and occasional scoring.

'It was always fun,' Euscher said. 'I just loved staying down in the key and waiting for guys to come down and I'd swat 'em.'

The Warriors were good too, rolling out to a 15-6 record at the start of the year before the team's inadvertent use of an ineligible player cost it 12 wins, not to mention its standing in the new OSAA power rankings.

Still, Euscher and Aloha had some memorable highlights along the way, beating Class 6A runner-up Westview in their Metro opener (a game they later had to forfeit), knocking off eventual Class 6A state champion Jesuit in the second round of league play, and finishing third in league play.

'I just loved practices,' Euscher said. 'There were times when you could go up and joke with the coaches, bump into them and call them (names), but then you knew there was a time to get serious, get better and get after it.'

Staying on Track

Encouraged by the success he found during his junior track and field season, Euscher came back bigger, stronger and more focused as a senior. And the results showed it.

After throwing just over 40 feet in the shot put as a sophomore, Euscher improved to 51-7 as a junior, won a Metro title and qualified for state, but finished just 10th.

Then, as a senior, Euscher hit a new personal best of 53-11.75 to win his second straight Metro crown, then repeated that feat at state and finished fourth.

'Just going back to Hayward Field (for state) this year was great,' Euscher said. 'The tension that was there the first time was gone. This year, it was like 'I know this place.''

Further, Euscher attacked his senior track season in the same way he did football, knowing that, even though track wasn't his No. 1 sport, it was for many of his teammates.

'I like looking at it from the perspective of the other athletes,' he said. 'It's my job. It's my duty.'

That perspective was not lost on his coaches.

'One of the things I liked about him is, James is not a natural basketball player and he'd never done track before his sophomore year, but he got out of his comfort zone and tried things that he maybe wasn't naturally gifted at which made him better at the end as a competitor,' Casey said. 'He learned to work through obstacles, overcome barriers. He stretched himself. He challenged himself.

'I really liked the fact that he refused to be a guy who only did what he was gifted at.'

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