High school football is back: North Clark County teams are ready to play


La Center Wildcats showing great promise 

League: Trico 1A

2022 record: 9-2, 4-0 in-league

Head coach: John Lambert

Following significant success during the regular season last year, La Center High School football coach John Lambert is eyeing deeper runs during the playoffs.

After claiming the Trico 1A league title, the Wildcats fell in the first playoff round to Cashmere. Lambert said the team is seeing a handful of strong players from last year’s team return, remarking that the commitment of last year’s squad was impressive.

“Hopefully we go further this year,” Lambert said.

La Center graduated Clayton Muffett, Levi Giles, Adam White and Davari Grauer last year, with only four seniors returning. Lambert noted the 6-foot-3 guard and defensive tackle Ryan Kawalek and quarterback Garrett Maunu are back this season, as are wide receiver and linebacker Austin Nixon and four-year starter running back Jalen Ward.

The practices leading up to the first kickoff show a squad ready to roll, the coach believes.

“The energy’s just really been amazing — off the charts — in practice so far,” Lambert said. “The kids have been working really hard.”

If that enthusiasm continues, Lambers said a deeper run into the playoffs wouldn’t surprise him.

He said Castle Rock and Seton Catholic are the main in-league rivals for this year. Although in the past his Wildcats and Castle Rock’s Rockets have vied for the league title, the players and coaching staff of Seton Catholic’s Cougars also present an anticipated challenge this year for Lambert.

Lambert was looking forward to seeing how La Center’s defense will work, saying both coaching and personnel were showing signs of promise to be formidable this year.

On the other side of the game, the depth the Wildcats have will be a boon as the team gets on the scoreboard.

“I think our strength on offense is we don’t have to rely on one or two people,” Lambert said.

Spudders’ depth may carry Ridgefield far this season 

League: Greater St. Helens League 2A

2022 record: 5-5, 5-2 in-league

Head coach: Scott Rice

The growth that Ridgefield is experiencing has translated to a glut of players for the Spudders football team this year.

Head coach Scott Rice said, for this year, the program has exploded to 90 students due to the growth of the city of Ridgefield and the school district as a whole. Although the team lost major players in Wyatt Bartroff, Carter Ferber and Isaiah Cowley last year, the Spudders still have a number of returning players.

For another year, the Spudders have two quarterbacks vying for the starting position: Logan Debeaumont and Brayden Malella, Rice said. He noted Malella also will be playing defense for the team.

Returning Spudders also include Josh Bell, all-league center, and Danny McDonnell as defensive end, Rice said. The team will utilize Rocco Wright and Cly Stephens for its running game.

The season will start with serious competition as the Spudders play Chehalis’ W.F. West in an away game Sept. 1. Ridgefield will face off with North Clark County rivals Hockinson in its third game of the series, while facing the feared Washougal team two weeks later.

Rice believes the Spudder practices will lead to success on the field.

“We put a premium on efficiency and getting reps, and we very intentionally coach all of our freshmen through 12th graders,” Rice said.

Now in his fifth year leading the Spudders, Rice believes the program now has a consistency that helps strengthen the team’s culture.

“We’ve got a group of senior guys that have never played in another program, that have never had another group of coaches, and I think that’s beginning to put us in a position where we can move faster and be more prepared for games,” Rice said.

Young Hockinson team will rely on hard work, physicality to go far

League: Greater St. Helens League 2A

2022 record: 3-6, 2-5 in-league

Head coach: Clint LeCount

When the Hockinson Hawks take to the gridiron this season, they will field a young team. 

Head Coach Clint LeCount said the majority of the varsity starters, including all but one on the offensive line, are graduated.

“We’ve got a lot of young players stepping up,” LeCount said.

Though only a junior, Jacob Dark is the most senior returning lineman this year, the coach said. He noted the returning Carter Cameron had an “amazing” offseason as wide receiver from competitions.

The Hawks will also have a quarterback competition between senior Andon Stenersen and junior Aiden Donowitz, LeCount said. They have different styles of quarterbacking, and the coaching staff will have to decide who fits the role of starter after some time in the season.

LeCount also mentioned a running back attack with the “two-headed monster” of Shey Yarbrough and Jake McKee. The two have different styles of play that will be a benefit for the Hawks this season, the coach said.

Like most GSHL 2A schools, Washougal is gaining the most attention for competition with the Panthers’ dominant quarterback, Holden Bea. LeCount anticipated the Hawks’ game against Ridgefield will also be tough in the third week, as will their battle with Mark Morris. He’s also not counting out the Woodland game for being a contest.

Making every possession count is the name of the game for the Hawks, LeCount said. Because of its youth, he anticipated the Hawks would be a different team than they were at the start of the season.

“For us, it’s just really important just to make sure that we’re competing every single day, we’re getting better,” LeCount said.

Being physical and making sure the other team has to earn every yard will be key to that development.

“I think some people aren’t expecting a whole lot out of Hockinson, and I think we might shock some people,” LeCount said.

Woodland returning strong junior class to help lead team

League: Greater St. Helens League 2A

2022 record: 4-6, 3-4 in-league

Head Coach: Sean McDonald

Woodland head coach Sean McDonald thinks this year’s team will have the capabilities to compete for the league championship. 

This year’s team boasts eight seniors after the Beavers lost 14 to graduation. 

“Our junior class is pretty heavy, though, and they’re probably one of our more talented groups,” McDonald said. “I’m excited about that group.”

Of the eight seniors, Woodland has some key starters returning. 

“[Quarterback] Brett Martynowicz, I think he went into our record books last year for passing and he’s like eighth or something on the list,” McDonald said. “So [I’m] hoping he can build on that. He had a good offseason.”

McDonald is looking forward to another year of Elijah Anderson. Last season, as a sophomore, Anderson led the team in both receiving and rushing. On defense, Anderson was a starting linebacker for the Beavers, but this season McDonald’s staff will have him at safety. McDonald labeled Anderson as their playmaker and even the “top dog.”

Another player to watch is Jeff Starr, whom McDonald labeled as a force in the middle. Starr will be playing linebacker and on the offensive line. Starr had a lot of success at camps this off-season, McDonald said. 

While Washougal has been labeled the team to beat in the Greater St. Helens 2A League, McDonald also sees Ridgefield as a team to beat. 

“I think Washougal is going to be right up there at the top, and then, of course, Ridgefield is always a tough battle,” McDonald said. “I think those two teams will be up there for the top, and I think we can battle them, hopefully.”

McDonald added the week two game against La Center will be a good test of what the Beavers will be able to accomplish down the road in the season. 

“Making the change in the little parts of the game and then staying healthy,” McDonald said will be the crucial aspects to Woodland’s 2023 campaign. 

Prairie High Falcons young but game 

League: Greater St. Helens League 3A

2022 record: 6-4, 2-2 in-league

Head coach: Will Ephraim

Like most teams in north Clark County, the Prairie Falcons have lost a sizable chunk of their senior starting squad.

“We’re pretty much starting new. We are young,” Falcons head coach Will Ephraim said, adding only a few players are returning to both offense and defense.

For the new blood, Ephraim expected some potency coming from brothers A.J. and Riley Burke. He said Alex Juhl, who started off as a quarterback, shows promise after moving to wide receiver. 

Braeden Slamp is returning as quarterback. Ephraim said Slamp is mobile and agile, and Ephraim believes Slamp should have made all-league last year.

Another big player for this year is Pierson Lameh, Ephraim said. Pulling both linebacker and running back duties for the Falcons, Lameh has worked on increasing his strength in the offseason to the point that the coach believes he will be a playmaker once Prairie starts in September.

“Those guys right there, I’m looking forward to watching them shine because it’s up to them to step up, and they’re ready for the challenge,” Ephraim said. “I’m excited.”

As far as games to watch, the Falcons aren’t taking any one less seriously.

“We’re approaching everyone as the team to beat,” Ephraim said.

Kelso is the first league game for Prairie, which Ephraim considers to be the top in that league. As a 3A school, Prairie is on the larger end of schools in north Clark County, though the Falcons are set to face Battle Ground in a school district rivalry match Sept. 15.

Although a lot of other schools lost many seniors on their rosters like Prairie, Ephraim felt it was still going to be a fight this season. He said out-coaching other teams’ will be a key to victory.

“It’s a combination, being able to out-coach our opponents and [for] our players to step up,” Ephraim said.

Experienced Tigers look to beat expectations 

League: Greater St. Helens League 4A 

2022 record: 2-7, 0-3 in-league 

Head coach: Mike Woodward 

The Tigers have not had an experienced roster with a large senior class in some time, but this 2023 campaign will field 22 seniors compared with last year’s 14, which only featured half of them atop the depth chart. 

The Tigers will be returning a few all-league honorees this season. Six of the 22 seniors earned all-league honors as a junior in last season’s campaign. Linebackers Jacob Champine, Cody Clarke and Cody Huntsinger, receivers Angel Lopez, Saveliy Tkachenko and tight end Noah Currie are all returning all-league honorees. 

“They’re a little squirrely, kind of the fun squirrely to coach,” head coach Mike Woodward said. “They are really fun kids to coach. They’re good locker room-type kids. They know how to mess around and have fun with their buddies, but they can flip the switch when it’s go time. At least in my experience, those have been the best teams to coach.”

Ethan Adams, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, will take charge of the offense for the Tigers. The quarterback was a key piece to the team’s success at a camp at George Fox University in June. 

Protecting their quarterback will be a key for the Tigers’ success in the passing game, and senior Jimmy Statham is a player to watch on the offensive line, Woodward said.

“He’s been incredible this whole offseason, just playing nasty finishing blocks … He’ll be fun to watch,” Woodward said. 

The Tigers are moving to a 3-4 defense, Woodward said. It will be headlined by the three all-league linebackers, but Woodward added that this year’s defensive line will be the “heart and soul of the team,” playing with “pure energy and great motors.”

Woodward is looking forward to the Tigers’ week one matchup with Mark Morris on the road. Their first home game will be at noon Saturday, Sept. 9 against Todd Beamer from Federal Way and they will play again at 7 p.m. Sept. 15 against the state Route 503 rivalry team Prairie.