HERMISTON — Following two weeks of padded two-a-days and hours of other organized team activities in temperatures that have just recently started dipping below 90 degrees, Hermiston’s David Barnett is just looking forward to hitting some new people.
“It’s going to be great because you know they’re not on your team,” Barnett said. “You kind of feel bad hitting your own teammate really hard so many times.”
The Hermiston Bulldogs football team and its starting linebacker Barnett will make the trip to Milwaukie on Friday for the season opener, taking on the same Putnam team that the Dawgs finished off last year in the state play-in game. Kickoff for football season is at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs’ victory moved them into the first round of the state playoffs, but as a No. 8 seed. Paired with the top-seeded Sherwood a week later, Hermiston was dispatched with equal ferocity 59-22.
The two teams on this year’s schedule may be the same in name, but nearly 10 months of time will keep this one from looking too much like its one-sided predecessor. Hermiston, a slightly above average 6-5 last season, moved up on Putnam 40-0 in the first half of the previous meeting after knocking fill-in quarterback Deshawn Stephens from the game. The Bulldogs’ fifth-year coach Mark Hodges said he’s not expecting that kind of a game again.
“That was last year, last year’s teams,” Hodges said. “They were starting young kids just like we were. It’s just a whole brand new year.”
That Bulldogs team did most of its scoring on the legs of graduated running back Bobby Adams. The all-state ball carrier scored five touchdowns and ran for 188 yards in the blowout. A different set of hands will be taking the handoffs from sophomore first-year quarterback Chase Knutz, but Hodges is still planning on a meaty run game for his side.
“If we can run the ball, then we’ll do well,” he said. “It’s going to look different just because you’ve got different personnel. But we still do what we do.”
Senior Alex Ortiz — the expected Adams replacement — will miss at least Week 1 with a virus, so Hodges said a rotating backfield will share the load. Junior Trenton Anteau will split carries with Corey Adams, Bobby’s sophomore brother, and some junior varsity swingers may also get a few touches.
When the Dawgs are on defense, there’s one Putnam weapon they’ll be looking to defuse. Stephens, who dominated the receiver position for half the season, took over at quarterback when starter Max Bailey went down with a broken collarbone. As a junior he accounted for close to 40 touchdowns during Putnam’s 3-7 season in the Northwest Oregon Conference and he believes he can top that number during his senior campaign.
“Oh yeah, 50, easy,” he told Oregonlive.com earlier this month. “You can quote me on that: 50 touchdowns. Every way possible.”
A number like that will have Division-I college scouts lining up at his door, but the Bulldogs’ goal is to keep the 6-foot-3, 185-pound dynamo out of the end zone for at least one game.
By any means necessary?
“We’ll try and play with 12 guys (on the field) for awhile until the officials catch us,” Hodges said almost too seriously.
Stephens is a matchup nightmare for any team. He can play anywhere on the field, lining up out wide, in the slot or in the backfield on any given play. And as he showed during the stretch run last season, Stephens is quite capable with his arm cocked on passing downs as well.
“You can’t just assume he’s going to be in just one position,” said Barnett, an all-league returner, listing off position formations like specials at a restaurant. “He’s got extreme athletic talent, better than anyone we have.”
The Bulldogs will return home following Friday’s game for a week of preparation before their home opener against McMinnville. That game on Sept. 7 will be at Kennison Field, the first game after the field’s bleachers were condemned this spring. Temporary seats have been erected and will remain through the football season.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.