It might seem daunting to try and replace a senior class that made a state title game and had multiple players sign with Division 1 schools, but this year’s Tualatin High School football team is ready to start the 2023 season strong.
In fact, they expect it.
“These guys have a had a really good offseason,” Coach Dominic Ferraro said. “They’ve worked hard. They’ve been in the weight room since football was over. We’ve had pretty strong numbers in our summer workout program. That expectation is here.”
Last year was Ferraro’s first as head coach for Tualatin, and he led the team to a 9-3 record in the regular season. The Timberwolves lost to Sheldon High School from Eugene in the Oregon School Activities Association 6A semifinals, just one game away from playing for a state championship for a second straight year.
With a full season together under their belts, both Ferraro and the players feel like they have a leg up on where they were at before the 2022 season.
“It took us a little bit to figure him out and for him to trust us and us to trust him,” said senior AJ Noland. “We’ve got a lot of dudes returning on offense. We should hit the ground running this year, and our offense is going to be scary.”
Noland figures to feature heavily in the offense this year along with fellow senior Jayden Fortier, who is already generating quite a bit of buzz before the season starts. National recruiting site 247Sports has Fortier ranked as the top player in Oregon heading into the season. On June 30, Fortier announced that he is committed to play collegiately for Arizona State University.
Fortier said committing before his senior season helped take some stress off his shoulders, although he knows he can’t sit back and relax now that he has committed to a college.
“Obviously, a lot of people are coming for my spot,” he said. “They want to be the number one player in the state. I’ve got to be working and pushing the guys out here in making sure I’m at my best, and we’re the best that we can be.”
Noland, who starts at receiver and in the secondary, has also received some attention from colleges and has offers from multiple schools, including a few Ivy League schools.
“He’s a character kid,” Ferraro said. “He’s smart, takes academics seriously. He’s the type of kid that if there’s trash over in the corner of the field, he’ll go pick it up after practice because this is our field. This is our sanctuary where we practice and play. He’s very observant like that.”
Senior wide receiver and defensive back Kenen Elder committed to Portland State University. Tyson Hunt, a senior tight end and defensive lineman, has received an offer from Minot State in North Dakota.
Fortier is listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, and the senior played primarily receiver last year, although he committed to Arizona State as a tight end. Ferraro said they are planning on using Fortier at tight end to get him ready for college.
Adding in new plays for Fortier is something Ferraro found easier to do now since he has built a foundation in the program after his first year.
“Offensively, we definitely had some learning curves last year,” he said. “We’ll just be that much more experienced as a group. Looking back at the spring and summer as we’ve installed stuff, it’s just been a lot more seamless. There’s not a lot of questions.”
The players have also noticed a difference coming into this year compared to last year.
“We know everything,” Fortier said. “We know all the base stuff, so that just leaves us more room to put in new stuff.”
A big reason the Timberwolves are confident they can start the year strong is their bond.
“Our team chemistry is out the roof this year,” Hunt said. “We’ve all been friends such a long time, our core, and I think we’re spreading that love to the younger guys. All the younger guys are so important to our success, too, whether it’s having them work hard at practice to give us good looks or having them step up and play.”
That was evident during a late July workout led by the seniors. When getting to the practice field, a few threw on their best stereotypical deep, gravely high school football coach voice as they yelled for their younger teammates to hurry up and take the field. However, once out on the field, they spent time seriously walking through a variety of drills and assisting their teammates.
Noland remembers being a younger player on the team and looking up to the seniors, thinking he couldn’t imagine getting to that level.
“Now that we’re in the same position, it’s more about taking everybody in,” he said. “We were just like them when we were younger. They can be exactly where we are.”
Fortier agreed, saying it’s up to the seniors on the team to make sure they show the younger players how to prepare and play.
“A lot of underclassmen are going to be on the field this year, so it’s really making sure they’re ready to play on Friday nights,” he said.
Fortier said that the idea of looking out for the younger players was something he saw in the senior class from last year.
“They were good leaders,” he said. “The biggest thing is making sure we fill those shoes.”
Ferraro said the senior class from last year played a significant role in helping him take over the Tualatin program as smoothly as possible.
Three seniors from last year’s team signed with Division 1 schools. Quarterback Jack Wagner signed with the University of Idaho, tight end and defensive lineman Richie Anderson is now at Fresno State University, and linebacker and offensive lineman Will Wilson signed with Northern Arizona University.
Additionally, Bodan Griffith committed to Pacific University.
Along with their leadership, their on-field production will be a tough ask to follow. Wagner was named one of the Three Rivers League’s offensive players of the year, while Anderson was one of the league’s defensive players of the year. Anderson was named the top defensive lineman and first team tight end, while Wagner was a unanimous first team quarterback.
Wagner and Anderson were both voted to the second team offense in last year’s all-state team, Wagner as a quarterback and Anderson as a tight end. Anderson was voted to first team defense in all-state last year.
While Wagner isn’t on the team this year, his name is all over the school record books at the moment. In the 2022 season alone, Wagner set the school records for most passing touchdowns in a season (29), most passing yards in a season (2,880), and most passes completed in a season (199).
Replacing last year’s seniors
While that is a lot of talent to leave Tualatin, there is plenty more returning.
Noland was voted as an honorable mention for all-state offense last year, and was voted to the all-state first team defense last year. He was named to the all-league first team as a receiver, was a unanimous all-league selection for first team safety, and was a first team kick returner last year.
“He starts at safety; he played corner last year. He starts as inside receiver; played outside receiver. He was our backup quarter. He played running back last year in one game for us,” Ferraro said. “He’d probably drive the bus home if I asked him to.”
Fortier was voted to the all-league second team as a receiver last year, and Hunt was an honorable mention at tight end and for defensive line on the all-league teams last year. Elder was voted honorable mentions for both the receiver and cornerback all-league teams last year, as well.
Senior Ryder Jones was a first team offensive lineman in the Three Rivers League last year, and was voted as an honorable mention for the all-state team, as well.
Ferraro described both Hunt and Jones similarly. He said they’re hard workers who show up to every event the team has, and they lead by example.
The competition to replace Wagner was still underway as of the start of August, Ferraro said. The two quarterbacks vying for the job are junior Nolan Keeney, who moved into the district this year from Westview High School, and sophomore Owen Hagerman.
Bringing a championship pedigree
Tualatin doesn’t get much time to ease into things. The Timberwolves will open their season in Bend against Summit High School, last year’s division 5A state champions. They’ll follow that up with games against tough opponents, such as Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wilsonville, which lost in the state title game last year to Summit, and Jesuit.
“We’ve got the murder’s row the first four weeks,” Ferraro said. “These guys are up for it.”
From there, Tualatin will move into its typically tough league play. Noland said the team is ready for it, especially thanks to the school’s boys basketball team, which has won two straight state titles. Noland and Fortier were on both of those teams, and Hunt is expected to play with them this year.
“There’s a lot of drive,” Noland said. “We understand what it takes at practice and on the court to put together a season and win in the playoffs.”
Tualatin Football 2023 Schedule
- Sept. 1 at Summit High School
- Sept. 8 at Lincoln High School (Tacoma, Wa.)
- Sept. 15 vs. Wilsonville High School
- Sept. 22 at Jesuit High School
- Sept. 29 vs. Lakeridge High School
- Oct. 6 at West Linn High School
- Oct. 13 vs. Lake Oswego High School
- Oct. 20 at Oregon City High School
- Oct. 27 at Tigard High School