Eager to shake off 2013, Lakeridge has the talent to be one of the state's elite squads this year

Photo Credit: MATTHEW SHERMAN - From left, Beau Bryant, Brandon Doblie, Lopeti Aisea, Eric Dungey, Massen Newton, Joel Schwarz and Hopoati Dauni hope to be a major part of a team that may be one of the most talented that the Pacers have fielded in more than a decade.There may not be a team in the state more eager to take the field for its first game than Lakeridge. The Pacers not only want to prove that they are a dramatically different team from the one that led the state in penalties last year, leading to a highly turbulent offseason, but they also feel like they have enough talent on both sides of the ball to vie for the state title.

Lost in the haze of unsportsmanlike penalties and OSAA sanctions last year was the fact that Lakeridge tied for a league title, reached the state quarterfinals and fielded its best defense in years.

While the Pacers lost a handful of very talented athletes at some skill positions, a good portion of last year's squad returns and its hard-nosed defense and blisteringly quick offense may very well live up to lofty expectations.

Lakeridge's offense is fueled by seasoned senior Eric Dungey, perhaps the top quarterback in Oregon. Dungey's strong arm, speed and awareness make him one of the most difficult players to defend in the state.

Lakeridge will make a concerted effort to protect him this year but also understands that part of its dangerous offense is predicated on the threat of Dungey getting out of the pocket and running.

Dungey will be throwing to a relatively inexperienced group of receivers, but the Pacers have depth at the position with Tim DeVries, Michael Kuhn, Keondre Menefee, Blake Canaan, Chase Clarke and Jack Cole.

Lakeridge also returns both of its tailbacks in the bruising Lopeti Aisea and the nimble Holden Catlett.

“Holden has really turned it up a notch. Each of those guys has a different running style. Lopeti will bowl you over and Holden tries to make you miss,” said first-year coach John Parke.

The Pacers' offensive line is young, led by returner Michael Kiever. Stephen Gray and Ryan McLaughlin will also play key roles this year and some depth on the line has emerged in the preseason.

“Coming into the year, (the offensive line) was a real concern of mine. But that's really not much of a worry now,” Parke said.

Lakeridge also returns its kicker from last year in Nick Rooney.

At least to start the year, Lakeridge plans on fielding an entirely separate offense and defense with no players doubling up, something that the team hasn't been able to do in years.

“It gives more guys an opportunity to play and it gives everyone a chance to get off the field for a bit,” Parke said.

Defensively, Massen Newton figures to be an exceptionally strong pass rusher.

“He's so quick. He plays like Warren Sapp,” Parke said. Hopoati Pauni is another strong defensive tackle on a solid front line.

Corey Rich, Malik Newton and Joel Schwarz will make up a talented linebacking corps while Eric Mott anchors the secondary at safety.

Lakeridge will again feature a fast-paced, high-powered offense capable of scoring from all over the field.

“Well be very up-tempo. That's going to be a key for us,” Parke said.

Lakeridge hopes to be in position to battle for another league title this year even with the addition of new powers like Sherwood and Tigard.

“We definitely want to do as well as last year and take that next step,” Parke said.

Lakeridge also hopes to quickly turn the storyline away from its reputation from last year, putting the spotlight squarely on its play on the field.

“We have to make sure the kids are performing in the classroom and showing great sportsmanship,” Parke said.

Lakeridge faces a brutal schedule this season. It will open with a road game against perennial title contender Sheldon and then travels to face Oregon City, another team that has been pegged as a championship caliber squad.

The Pacers will open league play at home against Canby.

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