Tigard brings a wealth of experience to 2021 prep football season

    Tigard Football Matt Studer Braden Graf
    Senior lineman Matt Studer (50), who will anchor the Tigard offensive and defensive fronts this season, is shown during the Tigers’ Aug. 27 jamboree with Clackamas and Glencoe while senior Braden Graf (21) is one of several talented backs who will split time this season running the ball for the Tigers. Josh Kulla/Tigard Life

    Experience is the name of the game this fall for the Tigard High School football team. 

    Last spring’s abbreviated season, which saw the Tigers finish with a 2-3 record overall and 1-3 in Three Rivers League play, is in the rear view mirror. But with barely four months between the final game of last season and the upcoming season opener Sept. 3 at home against Sunset, Coach John Kemper hopes his returning players will be ready to start what promises to be a challenging schedule. 

    Tigard Football Pat Vialva
    Senior Pat Vialva (1) looks for a receiver during the Aug. 27 jamboree with Clackamas and Glencoe. Vialva is battling for the starting quarterback position with junior Cameron Masters-Doble. Josh Kulla/Tigard Life

    “You feel like you just finished the season,” Kemper said following a recent practice. “It’s been the shortest, yet longest year ever. But at the same time, you feel like you’re a little bit behind where you are in a normal year.” 

    Normally, spring is a time for conditioning and informal practices that help give coaches a good idea of who their most solid contributors will be the following year. That routine was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and the ensuing chaos carried over into 2021, with all three prep sports seasons compressed into just over three months’ time. 

    Still, Kemper says the short football offseason is likely to be beneficial to his younger players. 

    “I think so,” he said. “Especially to that sophomore class who are now juniors. They played freshman football and a little bit of spring stuff and then they got shut down, so really, it was good for them to go back-to-back just because they had such a long layoff.”

    Hired in 2019 to replace Craig Reucker, Kemper is entering his third season as head coach at Tigard. He is hoping for better results this fall after a challenging spring season that included a 34-10 loss to rival Tualatin, their first to the Timberwolves since 2015. 

    “Record wise it wasn’t what we’re accustomed to in those five games, but, really, we started making a turn in those last two against Tualatin, that was a really good football team, and going and playing Clackamas in the culminating week, who is a really good team,” Kemper said. “They had a few guys out with injury in that game but it kind of all came together, it felt like.”

    Despite graduating nine seniors, including starting quarterback Zach Chesler and running back Hewitt Sullivan, this year’s squad features plenty of experience at key positions, particularly on defense, where junior Vaughn Croxton and seniors Tommy Martin and Karson Boschma will anchor the linebackers and defensive secondary. Then on the defensive line, seniors Leif Beers and Manny Wilder and junior Matt Studer will
    do the same. 

    “We’ve got multiple guys who can kind of take on that leadership role,” Kemper said. 

    On offense, a quarterback battle for the starting spot is brewing, while Boschma will help lead the wide receivers. Meanwhile, Martin, Croxton and senior Trent Hall will provide a combination of size and speed at the running back position, and Elijah Jackman, Henry Masters and Austin Goetz all bring playmaking ability to the field from the tight end spot. 

    Even with substantial talent, playing in the Three Rivers League, widely considered the toughest in class 6A, is going to be meatgrinder, even for perennial favorites Lake Oswego and West Linn. That’s why Kemper is not as worried about wins and losses as he is about simply improving as a team week after week. 

    “The record, that’s not the indicator of us meeting our potential,” he said. “It’s us playing every snap to the best of our ability and when the clock strikes zero if you go and do that more often than not the scoreboard takes care of itself.” 

    That focus also applies to the pandemic, which once again looms over Oregon high school sports. But unlike last year, the fall schedule remains on track to start on time. 

    “We talk to the kids and we control what we can control,” Kemper said. “We can control who we’re around, we can control keeping our bubbles as small as possible, we can control putting our masks on inside now again. We can’t control what other people are doing.

    “You’ve got the masks back on inside, as far as I’ve heard, you don’t know what’s coming down the pike with this new variant but we’re preparing for a normal year.” 

    2021 Schedule

    Sept. 3 v. Sunset 7 p.m.
    Sept. 10 @ Jesuit 7 p.m.
    Sept. 17 @ Mountainside 7 p.m.
    Sept. 24 v. Newberg 7 p.m.
    Oct. 01 @ Lake Oswego 7 p.m.
    Oct. 08 v. Oregon City 7 p.m.
    Oct. 15 @ West Linn 7 p.m.
    Oct. 22 v. Lakeridge 7 p.m.
    Oct. 29 v. Tualatin 7 p.m.

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    Josh Kulla is a writer and photographer with experience reporting on city, county and state government, as well as photographing news, sports and events, across the Portland metropolitan area. In his spare time, he can be found photographing Northwest landscapes. He can be reached at [email protected]