Cleveland, down to 25 players, is hopeful to bolster its numbers and return to a full varsity schedule in 2022.
Cleveland, down to 25 players, is hopeful to bolster its numbers and return to a full varsity schedule in 2022.

Cleveland's late switch to a junior varsity football schedule this season has skewed the varsity slate for the 6A Portland Interscholastic League.

The Warriors were set to play a full varsity season, but with only 25 players in the program, and most of them freshmen and sophomores, the school and the PIL athletic office opted instead to go JV.

“They didn't feel it was competitively appropriate or safe to play a varsity football schedule with the kids they have out,” said Jeff Peeler, PIL assistant athletic director. “Numbers are low, but if they were juniors and seniors, they could play varsity.

“They worked at it, and as we got closer, we knew it was an issue. I didn't want to do it, but I saw it for myself. I couldn't send them out there to play.”

Craig Ruecker, the longtime Oregon high school coach who is a consultant for the PIL, also was influential in the decision, according to first-year Cleveland coach Trevor Smith.

“I'm so grateful to Jeff and Coach Ruecker that they advocated for us to play a JV schedule,” said Smith, who played center on the Ruecker-coached 1986 Glencoe state title team.

Cleveland's move to JV left the other PIL schools in need of a third nonleague game. Franklin has added Sandy in Week 5 and Grant picked up Barlow in Week 8, but Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Wells and McDaniel have yet to fill the void on their schedules.

“I'm still working on it,” Peeler said. “We'll just see what happens. The word is out. The way we're trending, sadly, somebody is going to end up not having an opponent one week because of protocols.”

Cleveland is looking to build throughout the season and return to a varsity schedule in 2022. Smith said he received “three or four” emails last week from parents of students who might be interested in joining the team.

“Hopefully this next week we'll get a few more,” Smith said. “And when school starts, we hope to get a few more. We're going to keep recruiting and talking to kids.”

Cleveland will keep one varsity game – against 5A Parkrose on Sept. 10 – but dropped the others, which included an opening date against Southridge and a seven-game PIL schedule. The Warriors will play a six-game JV schedule in the PIL and picked up JV games against 6A Barlow (Sept. 3) and 5A Thurston (Oct. 11).

Because Cleveland's roster has three seniors, the team has to reach an agreement with opponents to allow them to play in JV games.

“We're not excluding any of them,” Peeler said of the seniors. “It's on a week-to-week basis. We're dealing with it, talking with the opponent. Opponents are aware of it.”

The Warriors played against Jefferson, Grant and Roosevelt in a PIL JV jamboree Saturday. They started two freshmen on the offensive line.

Smith is the fourth in four seasons for Cleveland, following Eric Fraser (1-8 in 2018), Ken Duilio (4-4 in 2019) and Bill Smith (0-5 in spring season).

A first-time head coach, Trevor Smith spent the last three seasons assisting at 4A Valley Catholic. Before that, he was a longtime assistant under Bill Smith at Century and coached at Beaverton, Glencoe and Crescent Valley.

Six-man expands

The number of teams playing six-man football has risen dramatically this season.

In the three seasons since the six-man game was offered as an option in 2018, it included 15 teams in two 1A special districts. This year, there are 24 teams – 16 in Special District 3 and eight in Special District 4.

Since the spring, two teams left – Sherman/Condon moved to eight-man and Harper joined a co-op with 3A Nyssa – and 11 teams were added.

Crow, McKenzie and Huntington have returned to six-man after taking a season off. They were six-man teams in 2019 but did not field teams in the spring.

Yoncalla and North Douglas, which combined for a 2A independent co-op in the spring, have formed separate six-man teams. Powers and Riddle also will have separate teams after combining with Myrtle Point and Days Creek, respectively, on 2A independent teams in the spring.

Mapleton and Siletz Valley have switched from eight-man to six-man. Pine Eagle, which had an eight-man team in 2019 but did not play in the spring, also has joined the fold.

Prospect Charter and Butte Falls, schools that did not participate in the spring, have formed a six-man co-op. Two years ago, Prospect Charter played six-man and Butte Falls played eight-man.

Colts on hold

Thurston, the 5A champion in 2018 and 2019, has been forced to delay the start of its season for two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team.

The Colts canceled their Sept. 3 opener against Southridge. They were scheduled to play Churchill on Sept. 10 but moved the game to Oct. 8.

“The silver lining is that we really only lost one game,” Thurston coach Justin Starck told the Register-Guard. “I hope we can recover and move on and play a seven-game schedule. Hopefully, we can make the playoffs and still have a successful season.”

Thurston opens its season Sept. 17 at Springfield.

Harrisburg goes indy

Five years removed from winning the 3A title, Harrisburg will play an independent schedule. The Eagles, who went 0-6 in the spring, have 24 players on their roster.

“Right now, we want to build that core,” first-year coach Chase Beach told the Albany Democrat-Herald. “We’ve got 24 kids in that locker room and they’re going to be that core that changes this around.”

Harrisburg's schedule includes two 3A teams (Scio, St. Mary's of Medford) and seven 2A teams (Creswell, Regis, Gervais, Coquille, Salem Academy, Rogue River, Illinois Valley).

Beach, a former assistant at Willamette and Cottage Grove, is the Eagles' third coach since Scott Phelps led them to the 2016 title. He follows Edmund Rivera (12-9 in two seasons) and Ed Ethell (3-12 in two seasons).