After an appearance in the OSAA Class 6A semifinals last season, what will the Clackamas Cavaliers do for an encore?

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Clackamas quarterback Mitchell Modjeski is one of the key returning starters for the Cavaliers football team, which opens the regular Sept. 1 against Summit in Bend.Clackamas quarterback Mitchell Modjeski stepped back in the pocket, spotted Braelen Bettles breaking open on a left-to-right slant route, and unleashed a bullet pass that Bettles grabbed for a 25-yard gain.

On the next play, Modjeski floated a screen to tight end Chad Bletko for a short gain.

Then Modjeski threw an incompletion intended for Bettles in the left corner of the end zone.

The action was all part of last week's 7-on-7 passing league scrimmage with Jefferson, Lake Oswego, and Skyview of Vancouver at Lake Oswego High School.

Modjeski's passing motion hasn't changed significantly from a year ago when he helped lead the Cavaliers to an appearance in the OSAA Class 6A semifinals, but something about the 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior has changed.

He's not wearing a knee brace.

The big, cumbersome brace was on Modjeski's right knee last seson after undergoing reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL that he suffered as a sophomore while playing basketball is somewhere on a shelf collecting dust.

And Modjeski couldn't be happier.

"Yep, brace-free this year," he said. "I'm totally cleared by the doctors, so I'm good to go.

"I'm definitely excited, because I feel like this year is my year, it's the seniors' year, so there's definitely a different mindset as we're getting ready for training camp."

Sophomore Austin Atkeson and junior Grant Schoen also took a few snaps at quarterback during last week's 7-on-7, but Modjeski is the clear-cut starter, coming off a season that saw him complete 101 of 108 passes for 1,235 yards and 16 touchdowns for the co-Mt. Hood Conference champions.

There's no need for a quarterback competition in training camp like the one the Cavaliers had a year ago when Modjeski beat out Austin Conner and Caden Hennessy for the starting job.

"I think it really frees a guy up to play loose knowing he's going to be the starter," Clackamas coach Joe Bushman said. "He's not worried so much about making a mistake, thinking that the next guy is just chomping on the bit. When you can play lke that, you tend to just turn it loose and play with more confidence."

Modjeski at times didn't seem very mobile last season, but he still managed to rush for 272 yards and seven touchdowns on 85 carries.

"I definitely heard some of the critics, but it didn't come as any surprise," Modjeski said. "I mean, you see a kid out there with a big leg brace on, it's kind of hard not to question his mobility.

"I definitley think I'll be a lot more mobile this season. Having had as much time as I've had to recover, I should be able to move around more and run more than I did last year."

The Cavaliers return all of their top receivers from last season, including senior Cole Turner, the all-Mt. Hood Conference, first-team split end, who had 46 catches for 652 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Aric Bergers, Beetles and Bletko combined for another 44 receptions for 545 yards and seven TDs.

The question marks on offense are mostly up front where Clackamas graduated four of five interior linemen, including center and co-captain Keon Hosseini.

"The linemen we have now want to be good, they've worked hard in the off-season, and they've kind of seen a group ahead of them do it, so they kind of know what they've got to do." Bushman said. "It's just going to take some seasoning with those guys."

Hudson Bishop, the lone returning starter, is projected to start at right tackle, with Ryan Espinoza penciled in at left tackle, and Dashiell Johnson taking over at center. After that, it remains to be seen how things shake out in the trenches for the Cavaliers.

"We're going to be good," Bushman said of his linemen. "We've got guys. We're just thin. We really are. We were able to just pound on people last year, because all our guys were just going one way, but that might not be the case this season.

"If you've got guys going both ways, by the third and four quarters, those legs start to go, just like a boxing match. Last year, there were teams that were every bit as good as we were for a quarter or two, but in the end, we just wore them out. Now, we're looking at some guys that are going to have to play on both sides on the ball."

The Cavaliers had 25 players on the field for last week's 7-on-7 scrimmage -- one of the last team workouts before this week's OSAA-mandated moratorium week, when all high school athletes are prohibited from having any contact with coaches or utilizing any of the high school's athletic facilities.

Most teams will resume off-season training programs on Monday, followed by the start of conditioning camps on Aug. 8 and the official start of practice for all fall sports teams on Aug. 14.

"The commitment we've seen in the weight room has been big for us," Modjeski said. "We've had lifting the entire off-season, and people have shown up and that's really important for us. You can see thorugh what we've done in the passing leagues and the linemen workouts that the work is paying off."

Clackamas is scheduled to play in an Aug. 25 jamboree at West Linn before opening the regular season on Sept. 1 with a non-conference road game against Summit in Bend.

"Right now, I am cautiously optimistic," Bushman said. "I'll probably have better answers to some of the questions in three or four weeks, but … our perimeter guys are pretty good, and if Mitchell is able to stay healthy and keep his feet moving, he's going to have a really good year."

By Jim Beseda
Sports editor
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