Falcons are a work in progress

Gladstone High School has a good nucleus of players returning from last year’s football team that dropped a 10-7 heartbreaker to 2013 state finalist North Bend in the Class 4A quarterfinals.

And the Gladiators have plans of regaining the league title that has eluded them since 2010, when they went 5-0 in the Tri-Valley Conference and 12-1 overall, their only loss to Baker in the semifinals.

“There’s one goal in everyone’s minds,” said Gladstone senior co-captain Andrew Conway. “We all have our minds set on league and state championships.... I think we have the talent to do it, if we take it game by game, one game at a time.”

“We’re more disciplined [than last year],” said Gladstone junior co-captain Handsome Smith. “We’re a lot more mature. We learned from the mistakes we made last year.”

The returnees well-remember last year’s quarterfinal with North Bend, when tempers and untimely penalties played a role in Gladstone’s loss — the most costly mistake coming when senior linebacker Oscar Sanchez, the 2012 TVC Player of the Year, was ejected following his overreaction following an official’s ruling.

“I was disappointed with our discipline,” Gladstone coach Jon Wolf said, following last year’s quarterfinal loss. “We had a few bad calls and we got a little too fired up....”

The Gladiators showed pretty good discipline in this year’s season opener, a 49-0 trouncing of Astoria. They had only 25 yards in penalties for the game and they went without a penalty in the first half.”

The Gladiators this fall put 63 points on the scoreboard in a 63-14 win over Stayton (63-14). They lost to Class 5A Roosevelt 20-16 on Sept. 6. And they gave a game away last Friday, committing no fewer than five turnovers in a 28-27 loss at fourth-ranked Philomath, a game in which the two teams generated the same amount of offense. Philomath had just one turnover in that game.

“We have 35 lettermen back,” Wolf says. “We are fast and we have some good talent.... We are kind of young, but we’re learning and we are getting better.”

Wolf said he was not that concerned that the Gladiators had two losses in their first four games to start the season.

“We knew we had a tough preseason,” Wolf said. “Just like Lake Oswego, we plan a tough preseason to get us ready for league. The kids have been working hard and in a lot of ways, they’ve improved.”

The Gladiators have ten players who either started or played a lot on offense last year returning to this year’s varsity squad, and the same number of experienced players returning on defense.

Arguably the top returnee is junior running back/defensive back Handsome Smith (5-8, 165). Smith was a first-team all-conference selection on both sides of the football last season.

Smith averaged just under 11 yards a carry in the Gladiators’ first three games this fall.

The Gladiators also return their top quarterback in senior Austin Galvin (5-10, 150). And Galvin is hungry, after sitting out the Gladiators’ last two games a year ago with a broken collarbone.

“I like the way we share the football,” said Galvin, who is healthy now.

In their first three games, the Gladiators amassed 1,007 yards in rushing offense. Smith was the leading ground-gainer, picking up 357 yards and scoring three rushing touchdowns on just 33 carries.

Galvin was the Gladiators’ second leading rusher, carrying 31 times for 246 yards — an average of 8 yards a carry.

Galvin also completed 20-of-44 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns.

Other returning experienced players on offense include: seniors Kyle Wou (5-11, 190) and Andrew Conway at wide receiver, and Trevor Browning (5-11, 165) at quarterback; and juniors Zach Smith (5-8, 165) at fullback, Eric Prom (5-7, 160) at tailback, Sean Williams (6-1, 170) at tight end, Trask Telesmanich (6-3, 190) at tackle and Sterling Berks (6-0, 170) at guard.

The Gladiators have been truly impressive on defense this fall. In their first three games, they yielded a combined total of only 393 yards and three touchdowns rushing. And the pass defense has been phenomenal. The first three opponents completed only 19-of-63 passes (30 percent), they were intercepted five times, and they did not complete a single touchdown pass.

Experienced players returning on defense include: seniors Galvin (cornerback), Wou (linebacker), Browning (linebacker) and Conway (linebacker); and juniors Handsome Smith (free safety), Telesmanich (defensive end), Prom (linebacker), Berks (linebacker), Dylan Wallace (6-3, 185, defensive end) and Colton Anderson (6-2, 340, noseguard).

Gladstone plays host to longtime rival La Salle this Friday in its Tri-Valley Conference opener.

Asked if his Gladiators might overlook La Salle because the Falcons have been struggling in preseason, Wolf said:

“There’s no chance. It’s a rivalry game and you can throw records out the window. We’re not going to overlook La Salle. It’s a great rivalry and it’s going to be a great game.”

Playing a tough schedule and with an inexperienced lineup, the Falcons have taken some lumps in preseason, with losses to fifth-ranked Central (29-3), fourth-ranked Philomath (43-7) and eighth-ranked Banks (40-9). They edged 13th-ranked Douglas 21-18 on Sept. 6 for their only win to date this fall. Their first four opponents have a combined win-loss record of 15-2.

La Salle managed only 111 yards in total offense in the Sept. 13 loss at Philomath, while the Warriors amassed 400 yards and Philomath’s quarterback connected on 14-of-17 passes.

Nash Lisac, a 5-9, 165-pound junior, was La Salle’s top ground gainer in the Falcons’ first three games, carrying 48 times for 237 yards and one touchdown. La Salle junior quarterback Alex Sherrill (6-2, 140), in three games, completed 25-of-56 passes for 299 yards and one touchdown, with four interceptions.

The opportunistic Banks Braves generated only a 263- to 234-yard advantage in total offense in last Friday’s rout of La Salle.

The Falcons have graduated most of the top players from last year’s squad. Among the graduates are a host of all-conference players, including first-team all-conference players — Mark Holenstein (quarterback, kicker), Colin Meisner (running back, defensive back, kickoff return and punt return), Sean Hays (tight end and defensive line), Alex Tetherow (wide receiver), T.J. Budetti (center), Jonathan Nagel (guard) and Sam Eichhorn (offensive and defensive line).

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