Tualatin High School enters the 2021 prep football season as one of the top teams in class 6A, despite playing in the perennially challenging Three Rivers League.
The Timberwolves finished third in last year’s shortened spring season behind Lake Oswego and undefeated league champions West Linn. This year, while the Lions remain the team to beat, Tualatin Coach Dan Lever says that every Friday is going to be a fresh battle where anything can happen.
“We’re excited for the kids, excited for the opportunity,” Lever said. “Our schedule is probably one of the toughest in the state, so we’re going to be pretty battle-tested this season. We have some players banged up from the spring that we’re hoping to get back, but you know we’re ready to roll.”
The 2020-21 school year was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic on all fronts, including prep sports. This saw all three seasons pushed into compacted spring seasons, with football scheduling just six contests overall and no post-season playoffs.
Tualatin finished the spring campaign with a 4-2 overall record and a 3-2 record in league play, with wins over North Medford (41-28), Lakeridge (42-33), Oregon City (43-13) and Tigard (34-10). Their losses came in the first game to West Linn (37-6) and in the final contest against Lake Oswego (36-7).
Depending on how the pandemic continues to progress in Oregon, there could well be further impacts to schools and sports this year. But for now, schedules remain on a normal track and coaches like Lever feel like they are used to dealing with COVID as part of the landscape.
“I think we can play this game and we proved that over the spring,” Lever said. “That’s the biggest thing. I feel confident that we can do this and do it safely, and that’s a sigh of relief. Last year at this time nobody was sure what was going to happen, so having that sense of somewhat normalcy is great for everybody and it’s great for the kids and our staff and it gives the community some ease heading into school and the fall.”
Every team in Oregon has been battling the challenges of COVID, he added.
“We haven’t had the access to kids we normally would,” he said. “So, we’re trying to work through that as best as we can and put them in a position to be successful.”
The Timberwolves will be led this season by the 6-foot-3, 200-pound wide receiver and defensive back Cole Prusia, a two-way standout who enjoyed a breakout season last spring that put him on the recruiting map. Prusia finished the season with 670 yards and 11 touchdowns on tape and three interceptions on defense. He was named Prep Redzone’s Oregon 5A/6A co-offensive player of the year and Oregon Gatorade Player of the Year. He committed to Oregon State after being offered a scholarship, but decommitted from the Beavers program over the summer.
“He’s a very explosive player who can stretch the field,” Lever said. “He’s battling a turf toe injury this summer so I’m hoping he’s going to be fresh when we start here.”
Prusia will be joined by a host of returning skill players, including senior quarterback Jackson Jones, senior running back Malik Ross and senior receiver and linebacker Kellen Hale, a 6-5, 205 pound bruiser who, like Ross, is also a standout basketball player for Tualatin.
“All of them are going to help us this season, all three are dynamic playmakers in their own right,” Lever said. “So, with Kellen and Malik they are multisport athletes that dominate sports year-round at the school.”
Having an experienced quarterback is always crucial in prep football, and Tualatin has just that.
“Jackson’s put a ton of time in this summer,” Lever said. “He competed in the Northwest 9 (camp) and won the long ball competition by throwing a football 77 yards. He’ll be ready to roll.”
There’s experience on the lines, too, with first-team all-league guard Jake Helton returning to anchor the offensive front. He will be joined by returnees Lucas Edwards, Nico Webb, CJ Haslett, Charlie Friedland, and Scotty Copeland.
The COVID-altered schedule presented challenges, but it also has a few positives.
“I think there are a few advantages,” Lever said. “I felt like the kids, schematically, it’s still pretty fresh for them, we noticed that this summer. Things we thought would take more time to learn, we just did them a few months ago so it’s still pretty fresh. I wish we had about four more months to train for the impact of our schedule and the season, though. You can’t play this game year-round, but you have to train for it year-round, so I hope we’re built for a long run here and that we can stay healthy.”
Tualatin opens the season with a San Francisco Bay Area road trip that is intended to be as much of a team-building experience as a competitive one. The Wolves play the Menlo-Atherton Bears on Sept. 3 before returning for their home opener on Sept. 10 against Silverton.
Sept. 3 @ Menlo Atherton (CA)
Sept. 10 v. Silverton 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 @ Aloha 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 v. West Salem 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 @ West Linn 2 p.m.
Oct. 8 v. Lake Oswego 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 @ Lakeridge 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 v. Oregon City 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 @ Tigard 7 p.m.