Clackamas is loaded with experience and talent

by: PHOTOS BY JAIME VALDEZ - CLACKAMAS QUARTERBACK DOONIE JOHNSONThis could be the year of the Clackamas Cavaliers in Oregon Class 6A high school football.

At 3-0, Clackamas is off to its best start since 2005, when the Cavaliers finished 9-2, losing only to Lake Oswego (21-9) and 2005 state semifinalist Tualatin (35-19).

In their first three games this fall, the Cavaliers have posted back-to-back wins over Grants Pass (42-23), Newberg (29-28) and David Douglas (35-7), and they were ranked the ninth best Class 6A high school team in the state in last week’s OregonLive poll.

“It’s humbling for us [to be ranked in the top 10],” said Clackamas senior co-captain David Reese, a 6-7, 270-pound offensive lineman who started as a sophomore and is being recruited by NCAA Division I programs. “Our freshmen year we went 0-10, our sophomore year we were 2-9, and last year we went 5-6. Now it’s our senior year, and it’s something we’ve been working for since we were freshmen. We’re hoping for a good year. We want to win league — go undefeated (in league), and make a deep run in the playoffs.”

“I like where we’re at,” said Clackamas coach Joe Bushman. “We’ve been building for this year for some time. I have kids that compete hard and play together. We’re excited about the season!”

This year’s Cavalier lineup is loaded with seniors and many of them, like Reese, have been playing varsity football since they were sophomores.

Bushman says that the Cavaliers have 10 players who started or played a lot last year returning on offense, and nine players who started or played a lot returning on defense. Plus they’ve got their kicker (Michael McDonald) and punter (Levi Millay) returning.

Two veteran quarterbacks and two veteran running backs head the list of returnees.

by: PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - CLACKAMAS QUARTERBACK CADE WILKINSClackamas 6-1, 205-pound senior Doonie Johnson took over for 6-1, 175-pound senior Cade Wilkins at quarterback early last year, when Wilkins went down with a season-ending knee injury. Wilkins had been the Cavaliers’ varsity quarterback as a sophomore.

Both Johnson and Wilkins are healthy this fall. The dueling signal callers have combined to complete 39-of-57 passes (68 percent) for 437 yards in Clackamas’ first three games this fall. Together they completed 19-of-24 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns in the Cavaliers’ season opener with Grants Pass. Johnson completed 11-of-12 passes for 58 yards; Wilkins connected on 8-of-12 aerials for 146 yards.

Senior Brody Haehlen, a 6-4, 250-pound tight end had five receptions for 47 yards against the Cavemen; Nick Krska, a 5-10 junior, had two catches for 79 yards and a touchdown; Taylor Stinson, a 6-6, 220-pound tight end, had four catches for 51 yards in last Friday’s rout of Aloha.

Seniors Dan Sherrell (5-9, 170) and Dalon Hudson (5-10, 190) return at running back.

Sherrell is the top returning running back in Class 6A in terms of yards gained rushing last season. A year ago he rushed for 2,102 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Sherrell has close to 600 yards rushing in Clackamas’ first three games of the 2013 season. He carried 18 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns in the Cavaliers’ 2013 win at Newberg; he picked up 145 yards on 28 carries against Grants Pass; and last Friday the senior talent rushed 26 times for 274 yards and three touchdowns.

Hudson picked up 68 yards on nine carries in the Grants Pass game; he netted 66 yards on just five carries at Newberg.

“Dan Sherrell is a great kid and a great running back,” said Johnson. “He’s put in a lot of hard work in the off-season, and it’s showing now that we’re playing games.”

Sherrell and Johnson’s performances have been no surprise. Before moving up to varsity last year, they worked magic together on Clackamas High freshmen and jayvee football teams that both finished with 8-1 records.

Sherrell made first-team all-league at running back last season; Johnson and Hudson garnered honorable mention in the 2012 Three Rivers League all-star balloting.

Haehlen is among five returning Clackamas players who were named to the TRL second all-star team a year ago. Also making the second all-star unit were Clackamas seniors Stinson (6-6, 220 linebacker), Zach Farnes (6-1, 195 linebacker) and Millay (punter); and junior Hayden Kirsch (6-1, 170 safety).

Two Clackamas offensive linemen also received league all-star recognition in 2012, Reese (6-7, 270 tackle) and Stinson (6-6, 220 tight end).

Although the Cavalier lineup is loaded with talented and experienced players, the Three Rivers League won’t be a cakewalk for any team this fall.

Until someone proves differently, Lake Oswego is the preseason favorite. The Lakers have not lost a TRL title since 2004, when they went 7-1, losing to Clackamas 10-6 in a late October game played at Clackamas. The Lakers, who were state champions in 2011 and state finalists last fall, enter this season riding a 48-game win string in league.

Oregon City, with a standout running back in 5-9, 180-pound sophomore Conner Mitchell, could be tough to beat this year. The Pioneers are off to a 3-0 start, with Mitchell rushing for 634 yards in the Pioneers’ first three games. Oregon City senior quarterback Jon Hall passed for 242 yards and five touchdowns last Friday, as the Pioneers thumped David Douglas 35-0.

Lakeridge is expecting big things, with heralded 6-4, 190-pound junior Eric Dungey at the helm. A third-year starter, last season Dungey passed for just under 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns, and he rushed for 742 yards and nine touchdowns. The Pacers are off to a 3-0 start, with wins over Reynolds (35-18), Centennial (58-21) and North Salem (48-7).

The Cavaliers have not beaten Canby in the three years that the Cougars have been in the TRL.

“I think the league is really strong,” said Bushman. “It’s balanced....

“I like our team. I like the way we battle and I think we can compete. But we’ve got to show up every night, because there is not going to be an easy game in this league.”

“I think we can go a long way,” said Johnson. “I think the sky’s the limit for this team. But we’ve got to take it a game at a time and show up every week.”

“Our goal is to make the deepest run in Clackamas playoff history,” said Reese. “The state championship game. If we work hard at every practice, I definitely believe we have what it takes to do that.”

Clackamas gets its final tuneup for TRL play this Friday, when the Cavaliers play Reynolds at 7 p.m. at Mt. Hood Community College.

Clackamas’ TRL opener is Oct. 4 at West Linn. The Cavaliers will have a short week of preparation for their anticipated showdown with Lake Oswego, as they’ll meet the Lakers on Thursday, Oct. 10, at Clackamas.

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