Elite quarterback, new crop of defensive coaches look to the playoffs

by: VERN UYETAKE - From left: Chase Marshall, Joel Schwarz, Eric Dungey, JR McLaughlin and Massen Newton figure to be leaders and key contributors for the 2013 Lakeridge football team. The Pacers hope to ramp up the defense this season while continuing to be a high-powered offensive threat.Armed with one of the top quarterbacks in the state and an offense that is still capable of scoring on virtually any opponent, Lakeridge enters the 2013 season as a dangerous and unpredictable squad. The question for the Pacers in recent years and this fall continues to be with its defense and, in particular, its defensive line.

Teams have been able to run with abandon against Lakeridge, controlling the clock and the line of scrimmage while putting pressure on the offense to put up points on nearly every possession.

However, a new crop of defensive coaches has instilled new schemes and confidence with the Pacers and if the team, which is still relatively thin, can stay healthy, it could be very competitive.

“I love our defensive staff this year. They're so knowledgable of the game and have been really impressive,” coach Tom Smythe said.

On offense, much of Lakeridge's fortunes will lie in the arm and legs of quarterback Eric Dungey. Dungey's athleticism figures to give teams fits again this year, and while he is exceptionally dangerous when he can find space in the open field, the Pacers hope to provide more protection this year to allow him to throw more often.

“He's a talented kid and does a lot of things that you can't coach. We want him to be able to hang in the pocket a bit more and make good decisions,” Smythe said.

Dungey figures to benefit from the return of JR McLaughlin, one of the Pacers' top all-around athletes who went down with a knee injury in the fourth game of the season last year. He was near the top in the state in all receiving categories when he was injured.

Jack Cole, Chase Clark and Joe Sindlinger will also be big targets for Dungey this season.

In the backfield, sophomore Holden Catlett has shined at tailback in early practices so far.

“He's got a chance to be really, really good,” Smythe said.

On the line, James Andrew returns at tackle along with Kyle Jonsson. A handful of players are currently vying for the guard positions and the Pacers will feature a strong center, Travis Johnson, who transferred into the program from Southridge.

“We like our starters and there are some good young kids behind them. It's as good of depth as we've had there in a long time,” Smythe said.

This year will also mark a shift in the program as Smythe will not be calling his own plays. That duty will fall to coordinator Chad Carlson, who Smythe thinks has injected some youth and energy into the program.

“Chad played for me and has the same mentality. He's got the kids heading in the right direction,” Smythe said.

Defensively, Lakeridge will try to limit the number of players it has to use on both sides of the ball to provide as much rest as possible.

Chase Marshall and Massen Newton will give the Pacers some bulk up front along with Andrew DeMonico and Marqueese Royster.

At linebacker, Clark Smith and Joel Schwarz head up a strong and athletic corps.

“Joel was a first-team all-state guy in lacrosse. That group is already way ahead of where we were last year,” Smythe said.

In the secondary, both Ryan Dunham and Tyler Miller provide experience and the Pacers also received a free safety transfer from Oregon City, Jacob Tipton.

As a group, Lakeridge's defense figures to be vastly improved. If the team can avoid the injury bug, which has hit many of its key players in the past few seasons, it could make a huge leap forward this year.

The Pacers have already dealt with a bit of adversity in the preseason when volunteer coach Michael Cole was arrested for allegedly assaulting Royster during an altercation at practice.

Smythe was not at the practice in question as he was recovering from eye surgery but he believes the incident puts the team at a crossroads.

“It's an internal thing (we're) dealing with and we'll get past it. A lot of teams at every level have skirmishes in practice and there was a disciplinary action that's been followed. We have two choices: We can let it fragment us or we can use it to come together,” Smythe said.

Lakeridge opens the season on Friday on the road against Reynolds and will face Centennial, North Salem and Lincoln in non-league action.

The Three Rivers League figures to be as deep but also as wide open as it has been in a number of years. Lake Oswego still may be the team to beat despite graduating 25 seniors, but Canby, Oregon City, Clackamas and West Linn all figure to be improved from last season along with the Pacers.

“The league is kind of like a death march this year, but our goal is to make the playoffs without having to play in,” Smythe said.

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