The revamped Les Schwab Bowl concluded a successful week Saturday night when Team Columbia defeated Team Willamette 28-9 in the 74th annual football all-star game at Linfield College.
Cru Newman of 6A champion Central Catholic threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score and running back Gunner Yates of 2A champion Coquille made a statement for small schools in Team Columbia's win.
Overshadowing the game, though, were the changes made by organizers to breathe new life into the event.
“I think it took a step in the right direction,” said Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne, head coach for Team Columbia.
Instead of the traditional North-South format, the head coaches – Pyne and Dan Lever – drafted players and assistant coaches. They could select from all classifications and grades.
The Les Schwab Bowl has long been a showcase for graduated seniors, but a year after underclassmen played in the game for the first time, about 40 percent of the rosters were composed of players still in high school.
“Quite a few of them were receptive to it,” Pyne said. “When the word gets out that this is a big deal, and it's a great week, and the first-class way that Les Schwab puts this thing on, I would imagine that it'll be easier to get those bigger-name kids.”
For the event to thrive, more coaches need to get on board, according to Pyne.
“There's still a hesitancy for some coaches to encourage their kids to play in a game when they're underclassmen because they're worried about them getting hurt for the upcoming season,” Pyne said. “I can empathize with it.
“Hopefully, we can get those guys convinced because it's a difficult position for a high school kid to be in. Do I go against my coach's wishes and do it anyway, or do I do what my high school coach asked me to do? But all those kids are going to this showcase and that camp. C'mon fellas, they're doing it anyway.”
The Les Schwab Bowl has made a concerted effort to promote players to colleges. Every practice was available on closed-circuit broadcast for college coaches, who have an evaluation period from June 1 to the last Friday of the month. Organizers are looking into moving the game up to late June next year to accommodate coaches who wish to attend.
“The hope is that next year we can invite college coaches to watch practice,” Pyne said. “I don't know if they can come to the game or not. Getting those kids that exposure would be fantastic.”
The connections from the game paid off for Sunset defensive back Hayden Hurley. The 6-foot-3, 187-pound Hurley had planned to attend San Diego State strictly as a student because he was unable to gain exposure to the Aztecs' coaches, but after Pyne was able to get his information to them, Hurley received a walk-on offer.
“The one kid that impressed me a ton was Hayden Hurley,” Pyne said. “He's athletic as heck.”
Newman, who led Central Catholic to the title as a sophomore last season, picked up where he left off by completing 7 of 10 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns and rushing nine times for 22 yards and one score.
“He's just a different kid, man,” Pyne said. “I've been fortunate to coach a lot of good quarterbacks, and he's better than all of them, to be a junior.”
Yates, who rushed for a state championship-game record 388 yards and five touchdowns in leading Coquille to its first title since 1970, showed the big-school athletes why he was so dominant in 2A. The Southern Oregon-bound Yates rushed for 72 yards on five carries and caught a 59-yard touchdown pass.
“Gunner is a dude,” Pyne said. “He would've been a 6A all-state guy, there's no question about it. He's fast, he's physical, he's tough. He's coachable and he's personable. Southern Oregon got an absolute gem out of that kid. My guess is he walks on that campus and starts playing right away.”
Back in charge
Cam McFarland will rejoin the head coaching ranks this season for the first time in 14 years.
McFarland has been promoted to head coach at Forest Grove, where he was the defensive coordinator last season. He replaces Dominic Ferraro, who left to take the job at Tualatin.
McFarland last served as a head coach at Roosevelt, going 1-8 in 2007 and 0-9 in 2008. He also was the athletic director at Roosevelt and was the head wrestling coach at Astoria and Southridge.
McFarland assisted with Ferraro at Westview and went with him to Forest Grove. The Vikings went 4-5 last season after finishing 0-6 in the COVID-shortened season.
"With the success we had last year, I think the kids feel like we can really build on that," McFarland told Pamplin Media. "We've got kids just like everyone else, it just takes time to develop them.
“There's support here and great athletic facilities, so we don't have anything less than anyone else. I feel like we can be very competitive here and our goals are to win league championships and go play for a state championship."
Pilot Rock tabs Munkers
Pilot Rock has hired assistant Shane Munkers to succeed Mike Baleztena as coach of the 1A eight-man team.
Baleztena, diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in the summer of 2020, resigned in January after going 21-26 in six seasons as coach. He coached the last two seasons after doctors removed a five-inch tumor, his left kidney and adrenal glands.
After stepping down, Baleztena told the East Oregonian that he wanted to watch his son, Bryson, compete in cross country this year.
“For the last couple of years, I only got to see three of Bryson’s cross-country meets,” Baleztena said. “During hunting season, I can only go one or two days. I want to spend the next couple of years hanging out with him until he goes to wherever. I love football, but I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my son.”
Munkers, a member of Heppner's state title team in 1992, has assisted at Pilot Rock for the last four seasons. His son, Cade, who played for Pilot Rock before graduating in 2019, will be on the coaching staff.