Under-the-radar players filling key voids for Wildcats

by: GREG ARTMAN - Cooper Whittaker (right), shown during last year's league game against St. Helens, returns as the Wilsonville football team's top tackler from 2012. He had 43 solo tackles last season, and he joins lineman Parker Nielsen to anchor a defensive unit that will be key to the Wildcats' success this year.In the movie “Warrior,” which the Wilsonville football team watched before the start of the season, the final fight scene features a song by indie rock band The National called “About Today.”

The tune seemed to carry a fitting title.

Although the Wildcats would probably love to have their graduated stars back on the field, they can’t afford to waste time yearning for last year. They have to worry about today.

“It’s crazy thinking about all the talent we had last year,” Wilsonville coach Adam Guenther said. “But that’s the nice thing about high school football — every year, you get a new team and new kids. The ones who graduated, you wish them well.

“Last year, we had the playmakers who, every time they touched the ball, could go the distance. This year is about how hard the guys are willing to work. It will be a team effort.”

It took a team effort for the Wildcats to finish last season with a 7-3 overall record and a 6-1 mark in league play, of course. But their success had plenty to do with a standout Class of 2013 that included Northwest Oregon Conference offensive player of the year Tanner Shipley as well as fellow first-team all-league honorees Johnny Ragin, Ryan Walsh, Gunner Pollman, Nick Highberger, Chase Hiday and Brax Youd.

Shipley (Boise State), Ragin (California), Walsh (Carroll College) and Highberger (Bucknell) are all playing in the collegiate ranks.

The graduation of so much talent likely means less big-play potential for Wilsonville, which topped the 30-point benchmark in eight games last season thanks to numerous long touchdown runs and kickoff returns.

Indeed, Guenther doesn’t expect that kind of explosiveness this year.

“This season reminds me of our first year,” said Guenther, who took over the program in 2010. “We broke some big plays, but we’re gonna go back to old-school football and get after it. If we can get four or five yards a play, that’s a good play. You’ve got to be happy with that.”

The team’s ability to move the ball will likely hinge on the development of what Guenther called “a lot of young talent” on the 59-player roster this season.

Derek Sunkle, a backup quarterback in 2012, figures to contribute in a larger role this year. Tyler Carskadon, Chase Eisenbrandt and Molalla transfer Lane Hull are also in contention for playing time under center.

Among other possible contributors on offense are receiver Brandon Chao, Cole Wilson and Nathan Burke.

Meanwhile, two returning all-league seniors will anchor a defense that is hoping to build on a season in which it held six NWOC opponents to 21 points or fewer. Cooper Whittaker racked up a team-high 79 tackles last year as a linebacker, including 43 solo takedowns, while lineman Parker Nielsen recorded 28 tackles and five sacks.

“We’ve got some kids who want to prove they’re part of the Wilsonville tradition,” Guenther said. “It’s their turn to play, to show people what they can do. Hopefully, they’ll be competitive every step of the way.”



Coach: Adam Guenther (fourth year)

Last year: 7-3 (6-1 in the Northwest Oregon Conference); lost to Bend-Mountain View in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs

Key players: Derek Sunkle, Brandon Chao, Cole Wilson, Nathan Burke, Parker Nielsen, Cooper Whittaker

Key losses: Tanner Shipley, Johnny Ragin, Ryan Walsh, Nick Highberger, Chase Hiday, Gunner Pollman, Brax Youd, Mat Merrick

Outlook: Following the graduation of a talented senior class that featured five college football players, the Wildcats will need better execution and collective effort to make up for what they lost in big-play potential.

First league game: 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at St. Helens


8/30     SPRAGUE                7 p.m.

9/6       St. Helens *              7 p.m.

9/13     PARKROSE *           7 p.m.

9/20     Putnam *                  7 p.m.

9/27     Mountain View          7 p.m.

10/4     MILWAUKIE *         7 p.m.

10/11   Sherwood *               7 p.m.

10/18   LIBERTY *                7 p.m.

10/25   SANDY *                   7 p.m.

* Northwest Oregon Conference game

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