Searching for a new head coach in April could’ve sent the Tigard High School football program into a tailspin.
Instead, the school found a steady hand to guide the team this year as an interim, and it’s someone who has worked with players on the team for nearly a decade. In May, the school named Ken Feist as interim coach for the upcoming season. Feist served as freshman coach last season, but most players in the program know him from his time coaching in the Tualatin Valley Youth Football League.
“He’s been my coach since fourth grade,” said Roman Martin, a senior wide receiver and defensive back. “It’s awesome. He’s back, and it’s like I’m a little kid again.”
Feist has worked especially close with this senior class, as his son, Jake Feist, is about to begin his season senior.
Nicco Simonetti, a senior receiver and cornerback, said the announcement that Ken Feist was taking over put the team at ease.
“It was definitely worrisome at first, having a coach step out right before everything was about to get started and trying to find a replacement in that short a period,” he said. “You wonder if you’re going to have a season or not. You just try to stay optimistic.”
John Kemper served as Tigard’s head coach for four years, and coached at the school for 14 years total. Kemper resigned in April, and now lives with his family in Texas and is a coach at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy, according to his Twitter account.
After Kemper resigned in April, Ken Feist said he stepped in to help run some workouts until the school could fill the coaching vacancy. Since it was a bit late to conduct a full coaching search, the idea eventually came up about hiring an interim coach for the upcoming season. Ken Feist said he didn’t throw his name into consideration, but when approached, he was happy to take on the job.
“I’ll never turn my back on kids and say it’s someone else’s responsibility,” Ken Feist said. “I’ve got coaching experience. I’ve got playing experience. I know these kids. I love these kids.”
Seniors stepping up
By the time Ken Feist was named interim, the team’s senior class had already been at work to make sure everyone was preparing for the upcoming season.
Martin said the seniors started a group chat to try and get the team together to throw a ball around or just hang out.
“All of us seniors got together and said no matter who our coach is, we’re going to stick together,” Simonetti said. “We’re going to count on each other to make the season as special as possible.”
Jake Feist said it was important for the senior class to push ahead when the team was faced with uncertainty.
Simonetti said that uncertainty completely faded away for the Tigers when it was announced that Ken Feist was taking over.
“Once we knew he was going to be the guy, everyone was ready to go, ready to start,” he said. “Most of us have been coached by him since fourth grade. He was my first coach ever. He’s all in for us, we’re all in for him. We’re going to give him everything we got.”
For the senior class, the unexpected coaching change late in the year will bookend their high school careers with unusual seasons. Their freshmen season was the Covid-shortened spring season.
Simonetti said it’s not something he thinks about, but instead, he is focused on consistency throughout the season.
Last year, Tigard won its first six games of the season, including 48-0 and 45-0 shutouts to open the season. Things went downhill as the Tigers got deeper into league play, however, losing their last three regular season games. Tigard lost 42-6 in the first round of the playoffs to Jesuit to wrap up the season on a four-game losing streak.
“Last year, we got ahead of ourselves,” Martin said. “We started off the season great. We thought we were big time. We started messing around more in practice. This year, we have to stay locked in throughout practice and games.”
It’ll be up to the seniors to ensure that happens, Martin said.
“We set an example for the rest of the team,” he said. “If we start messing around in practice, everyone else is going to think it’s okay to do that.”
Replacing all-league talent
Martin said the seniors from last year did a good job leading by example and looking out for the younger players, which is why he and his fellow seniors want to do the same.
Tigard played a lot of seniors last year, and Ken Feist said it’ll be a challenge to replace all they brought to the team. Last year, the Tigers had four seniors earn all-state recognition, and 11 seniors recognized with all-league honors.
That included running back Konner Grant and center Bryson Hoover, who were both honorable mentions for all-state offense, linebacker Vaughn Croxton, who was named to the first team for all-state defense, and defensive lineman Reese Hare, an honorable mention for all-state defense. Croxton was also named an all-league co-defensive player of the year.
Ken Feist said that while the team played a lot of seniors last year, there was plenty of talent in the younger classes.
“We have some guys who might not have had a lot of playing time last year, but could’ve been out there,” he said. “We’ve got kids ready to go.”
Some of the juniors who did see time were also recognized for their play. Martin was named all-league second team at cornerback, and was an honorable mention for all-league at receiver. Simonetti also double-dipped with all-league honors, earning honorable mention at both receiver and safety.
Jake Feist was an honorable mention for all-league at running back, and John Stone Jr. was an honorable mention at offensive tackle.
Brian Smith and Jason Layton each earned honorable mentions on the defensive line last year, as well.
Ken Feist said Smith, who also plays tight end, has great hands and vertical ability. He also anticipates Smith will be a leader for the defense.
Another possible leader for the defense is junior Trevin Laird, who plays safety, as well as receiver. Ken Fiest said the junior is a “phenomenally gifted athlete.” Laird said he didn’t get on the field too much last year, so he’s hoping to make an impact in his junior year offensively and defensively.
“I’m looking to be a leader,” he said. “Playing both sides of the ball, I need to do my part. I want to play a major role.”
He said that early in training camp, the defense was looking very strong this year.
Jake Feist agreed about the defense, but also noted they have a lot of athleticism and size on offense. He thinks Tigard could have one of the better offenses in the league this season.
Martin likes the talent all throughout the offense. He said he thinks they could be a pass-heavy team, but said Tigard’s running backs are also strong.
“We’re going to be a hard team to stop,” he said.
Looking to the future
While the Tigers lost a lot of talent, there is still plenty in the program, and a few seniors have already received offers to play college.
Martin has received offers to play after high school from the University of Pittsburgh, Miami University in Ohio, University of Nevada, Ohio University and Portland State. He said he and his family are excited by the offers, but he still has to focus on the upcoming season.
“This offer stuff is cool and great and all, but coming into last season, I didn’t have any of that,” he said. “I have to keep that mindset. I have to stay humble because I feel like if I get a big head, things can go sideways.”
Jake Feist has offers from the University of Puget Sound, Linfield University, and Pacific University.
Simonetti has also received offers from Pacific and Linfield, as has Stone.
For advice on recruiting and playing collegiately, they don’t have to travel too far. They can just ask their new coach. Ken Feist played football and baseball at Portland State University from 1987 to 1991. He was picked in the 1991 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants, and played in the minor leagues for a few seasons.
While he’s excited to see members of the team being recruited and continuing to play after high school, he also makes sure to tell them not to get tunnel vision when it comes to their futures.
“I’m big on Plan B,” he said. “Everyone wants to play in the NFL or MLB, but what’s your Plan B if that doesn’t happen? Number one is you have to be a good student. You have to get good grades. Let’s go to college. Let’s study. Let’s be a good community member and a good family kid. Sports are great, but it only lasts a certain part of your life.”
As for Ken Feist’s future beyond this year, that’s still undecided. He said he doesn’t expect to put his name into the full-time permanent coaching position search the school will conduct. He said he’d be willing to keep helping out, but that will partly depend on where his son attends college. If his son stays close by, Ken Feist said he could see himself still helping out in some capacity.
But the coach and team aren’t too focused on that stuff right now. Instead, they’re focused on gearing up for a season that’s been practically a decade in the making.
“It’s that togetherness, that family atmosphere, that’s our strong suit,” Ken Feist said. “We’re all this in together.”
Tigard Football 2023 Schedule
- Aug. 31 vs. North Medford High School
- Sept. 8 vs. Sandy High School
- Sept. 15 vs. Glencoe High School
- Sept. 21 at Liberty High School
- Sept. 29 vs. Oregon City High School
- Oct. 5 vs. Lakeridge High School
- Oct. 13 vs. West Linn High School
- Oct. 20 at Lake Oswego High School
- Oct. 27 vs. Tualatin High School