He is known to his teammates as Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. That is how special Mountain View’s junior tailback has been this season. As the Cougars ready for Saturday’s Class 5A football semifinal game, however, perhaps the rest of the state should refer to him as “Mr. Jonas Larson.”
He stands 6 feet tall and weighs a lean 170 pounds, but Larson has been a bull this fall for Mountain View.
He has punished defenders with a lowered shoulder that carries the force of a wrecking ball. He has blazed past would-be tacklers like a bottle rocket, juked opponents like a cruel joke and spun off defenders like a magician.
Larson has done it all this season for Mountain View, the top seed in the 5A state playoffs. Yet he was on no one’s radar heading into the 2017 season.
No one outside of the Cougars’ camp, that is.
“We knew he was a special kid,” Mountain View coach Brian Crum said in September, two games into the season. “He’s athletic as all get-out. … 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.”
That was two months ago. Surely after 1,985 yards (including a season-high 260 yards on an eye-opening 45 carries in this past Friday’s 46-42 quarterfinal win over No. 8 Silverton) and 25 touchdowns, the Cougs would no longer be surprised by Larson’s exploits.
“There’s just something about Jonas,” says Mountain View quarterback Caden Cromwell. “He’s just an athlete. He’ll make something out of nothing, and you’ll sit there in awe.”
For the Cougars, though, Larson’s breakout season is perhaps a year later than expected.
As a sophomore in 2016, Larson was primed to be the Cougars’ primary running back, but a fractured left foot suffered during an early-season practice sidelined him for nearly half the season. And in the Cougs’ final regular-season game, the Civil War against Bend High, he pulled his left hamstring, which resulted in him missing Mountain View’s first-round playoff loss at Ashland.
“Obviously it’s a huge buzzkill,” Larson says. “Missing the entire first half of the year, you can’t get into the flow of the game or anything like that. But I care about the team. Obviously if I’m not there for the team, it seriously affects the team, and I feel really bad about that. I’m not too concerned about myself not playing. I just feel bad, especially losing in the playoff game, when I was injured as well. Seeing the seniors have to leave after that, it broke my heart.”
That is why Larson entered his junior season with redoubled determination. He committed himself — for his team — to be at the top of his game, mentally and physically, so that he could perform to the best of his abilities for his teammates.
Before the season began, however, few would have projected Larson to be the leading rusher in Class 5A, as he has been all season. Yet that was just fine with Larson, he laughs. In fact, he notes, “that may have been good for me. I don’t play well with high expectations.”
Yet Larson has put up impressive numbers each week, even with the spotlight shining brighter on him with every passing game.
“We have good tailbacks, and Jonas especially,” says Crum. “Certainly he provides that little extra burst. He’s got a chance to take it (for a touchdown) any time.”
While he has amassed an extraodinary 299 carries (nearly 60 percent of the team’s total), Larson is only the head of the Mountain View beast: an offense that is averaging a jaw-dropping 282.7 rushing yards per game.
“This is probably as deep as we’ve been at tailback,” says Crum, Mountain View’s sixth-year head coach. “There’s not a lot of drop-off. And the nice thing is none of them care about how many carries they get. They’re all about, ‘Let’s play football.’”
Senior Jordan Bell (6-0, 160 pounds) is averaging 52.7 yards per game and has displayed bursts out of the backfield for the Cougars, including a four-touchdown performance against Ridgeview earlier this season and a 96-yard showing against Hood River Valley in Mountain View’s penultimate game of regular season.
Junior Nalique Hogan (6-0, 155) filled in admirably for Larson after the feature tailback was injured in the first half in the Cougs’ first-round matchup against Milwaukie. Hogan stepped in to run for 90 yards on 16 carries after entering the game with just 47 yards on eight carries for the season.
That depth in the backfield (including junior Dalton Payfer-Lockling, who exploded for 114 yards against Hermiston earlier this year) is not only a boon for the Cougars as a team but also for each running back.
“It’s so much easier on me,” Larson says. “Being able to have those guys out there, being able to trust them and know that they can carry the load if I can’t go for some reason or I’m tired, I know that they can go in and that they can carry the ball and do everything they need to do. That prevents me from trying to do too much, and I feel like I do that a lot.”
Led by Larson, and a potent rushing attack, the Cougars are one win away from advancing to the program’s second state championship game. The other came in 2011, when Mountain View claimed the 5A state title.
“They deserve it,” Larson says of this year’s Cougars — his “family,” as he calls them.
“They do everything for me, so they deserve me to be at my best.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org .