Despite losing 25 seniors, Lake Oswego has reloaded with an eager group

by: VERN UYETAKE - From left: Jordan Horak, Zach Parker, Kenny Oyama, Nick Underwood and Collin Calhoon will all be part of a talented but unproven Lake Oswego football team that is coming off back-to-back appearances in the state championship game.
The term “rebuilding” is usually thrown around to describe a team or program with multiple holes to fill and one that is, quite frankly, not expected to be very good. So for Lake Oswego's football team, that's an unfair term to use this season.

Instead, let's call it a large-scale remodel because, even though the loss of 25 seniors makes for plenty of work to be done, the foundation and bones of the program are still in terrific shape.

In this case, the foundation is the depth that the Lakers have prided themselves on over the years. So while this year's squad will certainly be more inexperienced at a varsity level than many of its predecessors, the talent still exists.

“It's probably one of the biggest retooling years we've faced in a long time. It's just one of those things where we had a class with a lot of seniors who played. It's an inexperienced group, but I think by the time league rolls around we're going to be pretty good,” coach Steve Coury said.

There will be new faces up and down the lineup this year, but many of the players who will take on key roles have come up through the system and, with the success Lake Oswego has had, it has allowed Coury to get his bench players extended minutes in many games.

At least early in the season, the Lakers are expected to use a pair of quarterbacks. Sophomore Mitch Verburg has a strong arm while junior Zach Parker is one of the team's top all-around athletes.

Parker will be a starter in the secondary for the Lakers and will see plenty of time behind center as well.

“I've never had a quarterback who was also a DB before, but he's so good we need him back there,” Coury said.

The quarterbacks will have plenty of options to throw to including Jordan Horak and track standout Yong Kim along with Kenny Oyama, Tyler Coleman and Daniel Dennis.

The Lakers also have a stable of powerful running backs, led by returning senior starter Nick Underwood. Underwood, Travis Sanders, Will Burton and Craig Hodges should all get touches this year along with sophomore standout Max Morton.

“There's probably not a 30 carries a game guy but we feel really good about all of them,” Coury said.

The Lakers also replace some big names on the offensive line but feel good about their replacements. Seniors Collin Calhoon, Paul Carlson, Wes Johnston and Austin Wright will shore up the middle for Lake Oswego taught by coach Chris Hubley, who Coury claims is the best in the state.

Kicking for the Lakers this year will be soccer standout Griffin Graves.

The team figures to find an identity as the season progresses but Coury expects the offense to be fairly balanced.

“We'd probably like to run about 60 percent of the time. It's going to be a challenge to control the line of scrimmage every night especially against who we're playing,” Coury said.

On defense, the Lakers have depth and athleticism in the secondary. Parker and Horak are both ballhawks while Oyama, Dennis, Brandon Warner and AJ Van Leeuwen all have a modicum of experience.

At linebacker, Underwood and Sanders could be among the best in the league along with Ben Torkelson and Giacomo Pacioni.

Up front the Lakers may end up playing some linemen on both sides of the ball. Kyle Layman will handle the nose guard duties and Coury believes he could end up being the next in a long line of standout performers at that position.

Parker Brisbee will also make an impact at defensive end.

Although the Lakers are replacing so many standouts, it's unlikely that the team will have any less of a target on its back this year after making the state title game two years in a row.

Once again, Lake Oswego will tackle one of the toughest non-league schedules in the state, opening up with Jesuit on Friday.

The Lakers will then face Olympia, Wash., Central Catholic and Southridge, and all four teams figure to be state title contenders.

“It's a brutal schedule for us again but that's what we like,” Coury said.

Lake Oswego will then have to navigate an exceptionally deep Three Rivers League without a single weak link.

Teams will certainly be eager for their shot at breaking the Lakers' longstanding league winning streak. Canby returns a strong class of seniors and is big on both sides of the ball while Oregon City, Lakeridge, Clackamas and West Linn are all expected to be improved from last year.

“The kids just want to make their own mark. It's probably as good as the league has been in a while,” Coury said.

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