Per usual, we will only discuss the top-10 for the 2A preview. Lack of available film, vast roster and coaching turnover, and the transition to 9-man make going league by league for 2A impossible. This fall will be hectic and widely unpredictable, but we will give it our best shot.
This is 100% a projection, and a manifestation of our faith in coach Dan Oswald. Players like Caleb Cruickshank and Isac Rizo with another year of maturation under their belts might be able to lead this Bulldog program back into the postseason, even in the potentially deeper than anticipated Tri-River conference. There are some very intriguing players on this roster like Jacob Kennedy and Austin Johnson that give justification for our cautious excitement about Willamina, even if the ceiling is a second round exit.
There are some pieces to like here, even if the transition to a new head coach might lead people to exclude Toledo from playoff discussions. Rayden Taylor anchors a group of returning production that, even without the Rothenberger brothers, could be competitive in Special District 3. Obviously, the transition to 9-man football coupled with the transition to a new coaching staff will be a hurdle, but we have faith Toledo will clear it.
Quinten Clark, Trenton Stafford, and Gage Twede are the ones we are basing this pick off of. Santiam is not the power they once were, true, but this is absolutely a team that can compete with some of 2A’s best. In a 9-man game that is likely to be much more dominated by skill players than the 11-man game, players like Twede and Quinten Clark could be the tandem that not only leads Santiam to another playoff berth and league title, but potentially a playoff win. They are definitely a team to watch closely in the first couple weeks, specifically in week two when they host 1A power St. Paul.
Word on the street is that Weston-McEwen has a huge turnout of kids this year. Already jam-packed with incoming upperclassmen, it is hard to see depth being an issue here. Kenzie Hansell has certainly established himself as one of the best coaches in the classification, so the transition to 9-man is the least of our concerns here. The hurdle of overcoming Heppner is still very real, but there is a lot suggesting this might be the year the TigerScots can pull it off.
6) Gold Beach
The one team in our top-10 that will not have that much of a learning curve in moving to 9-man is the Panthers of Gold Beach. Already having played 8-man at the 1A ranks the last few seasons, simply adding one more to the field rather than removing two seems from the outside much less of a daunting task to the team from the south coast than it does to others, especially when considering one of the best football players in the classification, Landyn Miller, is on the roster with multiple seasons of wide-open style football already under his belt. There is real potential here for multiple playoff wins, but just have to see how Gold Beach puts it all together and how sturdy they are on the line of scrimmage.
Big swing here. Stanfield has not won any high profile matchups in the last couple seasons (4-4 overall last fall, 3-3 during COVID), but the returning upperclassmen group for the Tigers looks to be rather large, especially by 2A standards. Only losing four seniors off a squad that played Heppner to a 14-0 loss, nearly overtook Weston-McEwen 12-7, and only lost to Grant Union 26-21, it is within reason to assume that with another year of physical maturity, the Tigers might be ready for the big time once again. Time will tell, but playing week one at Kennedy should provide answers very quickly.
4) Grant Union
There is a lot to replace between Justin Hodge, Parker Neault, and Maverick Miller, but the amount of complimentary pieces coming back is something few programs in 2A can boast. Yes, the headliners for the most part are gone, but the surrounding pieces that made Grant Union consistently competitive with teams like Heppner and Weston-McEwen last season returns. They may be a low-ceiling pick, but they are undoubtedly a high-floor pick.
There is a lot to replace here, yes. But, Bandon has some impressive young talent coming up in the skill positions. Will they be ready for the trials of being the main work horses? Time will tell there, but based on the track record of Bandon and the composition of the roster as it stands compared to last year, it is not much of a stretch to see them back in the fight for a final-four spot again this fall. The domination in the trenches is less in doubt, but it is nonetheless always something to keep your eye on with a team like this one that hangs its hat on dominating there.
Oakland potentially has the best offensive line in 2A football this season. Even with the departure of Jesse Parker, the Oakers offensive line should be able to move the line of scrimmage in a way that in and of itself is worth two wins. Regardless of the backfield play, if the line does what we think it could do, the Oakers will run over just about everyone they line up against. A high-ceiling pick rather than a balancing act here maybe, but we are suckers for good line play. In a landscape where the new style of football will be a fluid process of learning for the first month and a half of actual regular season play, we will take the closest thing to a sure bet here at number two.
This needs no explanation. Greg Grant is still the coach of the Mustangs, there is returning talent on the roster that itself will make Heppner competitive even with the high-profile departures of players like Brock Hisler, and if there is one program in 2A that will undoubtedly manage the transition to 9-man in a seamless fashion and show no outward signs of unsteadiness, it is Heppner. The Mustangs have their reputation for a reason, and without significant challenger or substantial perennial power knocking on the door in the preseason–keep in mind Kennedy is playing 3A this fall–Heppner is the easy, frankly the only, choice at #1.