When it came to ranking the top high school running backs in Oregon, nobody gave Jonas Larson a second look — or even a first.
That didn’t matter to Brian Crum. In fact, the Mountain View coach says, he welcomed the anonymity. Because the Cougars were well aware of the talent they boasted in the backfield: a 6-foot, 170-pound bull who only sees red ahead of him.
“We knew he was a special kid,” Crum says of his junior running back. “He’s athletic as all get-out. I’ve seen him develop in the weight room and track. We’re not surprised he’s doing what he’s doing. He has some special gifts. He can cut, he can stop and accelerate, he has great vision. He’s a pretty special tailback. We knew nobody knew a lot about him, and after that first week at South Albany, one of the first things I said was, ‘Hey, 5A football just figured out who Jonas Larson is.’”
In Mountain View’s season opener, a 28-7 victory at South Albany, Larson was introduced to the state, rushing for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. His tour continued in a 28-21 Cougars’ victory at Central last Friday, when Larson erupted for 213 yards and a touchdown on a whopping 36 carries. Through two games, the junior has racked up 370 yards and has averaged 26 carries per game.
“You just laugh,” Crum says about Larson not being on many pundits’ radars before the season began. “You know who you had. Nowadays, if you’re not doing all that extra 7-on-7 mumbo-jumbo or those special showcases, that’s where all those internet people make all their money is hyping those guys. But we knew who Jonas was. It was not a huge surprise to our staff or our players.”
Paced by Larson, who missed a bulk of last season due to injury, Mountain View (2-0) heads into its 5A Special District 1 opener undefeated for the second straight year. And for the second straight year, the Cougars, ranked No. 1 in 5A, put their unblemished record on the line Friday night against visiting No. 8 Hermiston. Last season, Mountain View traveled to the Eastern Oregon school and, as Crum puts it, “it was over in a quarter and a half,” as the Bulldogs built a 28-point lead en route to a 35-21 win.
Now, the Cougars are prepared for payback.
“I don’t know if our kids are focused on (league play). I just know that they want to play Hermiston,” Crum says. “I think 95 percent of it is because of what happened last year. We didn’t quite know who we were at that time. We were 2-0 and beat two pretty good teams, just like we have this year. … We know that they have some outstanding athletes with that receiver, Dayshawn Neal, and their quarterback, Andrew James, hurt us last year. We’ve got to make sure to limit some of their big plays, and we’ve got to do what we do.”
Hermiston (1-1) is coming off its first win of the season, a 26-0 home victory versus Lewiston (Idaho) last Friday. The Bulldogs, who are playing their final season in Oregon (they will join the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association starting next fall), are set on going out on top. And Hermiston, the 2014 state champion, has the weapons to do so.
Quarterback Andrew James has passed for 396 yards and three touchdowns this season for the Bulldogs, and he leads the team with 255 rushing yards and two scores. His top target is wideout Dayshawn Neal, who has accounted for 229 receiving yards and three touchdowns this year.
Mountain View, though, is “a different defense than we were last year,” Crum assures. One reason is a new defensive coordinator, Neil Elshire, who helped mold Summit into the top 5A defense during their state championship run in 2015 and who was part of the Mountain View coaching staff that guided the Cougars to the 2011 state title.
“We knew it was going to take a little while just for our kids to get comfortable back in a slightly different scheme,” Crum says. “Neil’s going to attack all the time. We move so much around up front that it causes teams problems. I know that, because I had to coach against him.”
Led by linebacker Dalton Payfer-Locking, who had five sacks against Central last week, and defensive linemen Riley Straly, Brandt Waller, Rylee Ettinger and Luke Schulz, Mountain View is primed to deal Hermiston a tasty dish of payback. And they will do so, Crum says, by being confident and aggressive.
“That’s going to be who we are,” he says. “We’re going to attack.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org