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Oregon’s top high school football players: Meet the state’s best defensive tackles

Who are the top defensive tackles in Oregon high school football this season?

By René Ferrán, Mike Wilson, Bob Lundeberg, Mitchell Forde and Paul Valencia

Over the next week, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at some of the top returning players in Oregon high school football. Our next list focuses on the defensive tackles.

IMPORTANT NOTE: These lists were compiled early in the season and are based mostly on last year’s performances and what happened in the first few weeks of this season. Before the season ends, we will be highlighting many of the new stars who have emerged this fall. 

There are hundreds of standout football players in Oregon and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Let us know about any other players you think should be added!

Tiger Black (Roseburg) photo by Leon Neuschwander 

Our complete high school football preview:

Breaking down every 6A, 5A, 4A team in the state

State leaders through Week 5:

Class 6A | Class 5A | Class 4A

Nathan Aker, Sweet Home, junior

Anchoring both lines of scrimmage for the Huskies is Aker, whom coach Ryan Adams described as “a dude.” Aker returns at nose tackle, where the coaching staff was expecting Aker to play a pivotal role as the team transitions from a four-man to a three-man defensive front. He earned second-team all-league recognition on the defensive line as a sophomore with 32 tackles.

Tucker Ashbeck, Heppner, senior

Ashbeck takes on a more prominent role for the Mustangs this season after earning all-Blue Mountain honorable mention as a junior with 45 tackles (seven for loss) and two sacks. 

Ryan Berger, Liberty, senior

Berger last season received second-team all-Pacific recognition on defense (20 tackles, three for loss). He has an offer from Southern Oregon and has drawn interest from several FCS and FBS schools. “I have no problem saying he will be one of the best linemen in Oregon this year,” coach Eric Mahlum said in August. “He can go toe to toe with anyone. He’s a two-way player who is tough, strong, and plays with a fire in his belly.”

Tiger Black, Roseburg, senior

A first-team all-state defensive lineman as a junior, Black is one of the toughest players to block in the state, leading the Southwest Conference with 4½ sacks last season. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound three-star prospect holds Division I scholarship offers from Air Force and Army. “Tiger is going to affect the game in one way or another, by making plays or forcing teams to figure out how to run around him,” coach Dave Heuberger said. “Our linebackers can fly to the ball untouched because of him.” 

Liam Cassidy, Jesuit, junior

The latest member of The Franchise is already drawing college interest for his play on both sides of the ball for the Crusaders. He’s a three-star 247Sports recruit who ranks No. 9 among the state’s class of 2024 prospects on defense. “He has tremendous upside,” coach Ken Potter said.

Steven Colyer, Vale, senior

Colyer is a two-way starter who earned second-team all-EOL honors on both lines as a junior. He was a key component to a Vikings defense that allowed just 11.3 points per game. He also is active in the school’s automotive program and plans to seek a career in that industry after graduation.

Cade Cunningham, Heppner, junior

Cunningham is another Mustang who has taken on a bigger role for the five-time defending league champion. He had 44 tackles (8½ for loss) and four sacks last season.

Will Davis, Franklin, senior

Davis, now 6-feet-4 and 300 pounds, made second-team all-PIL on the defensive line last season. He is counted on for impact play on both sides of the ball. “I think Will’s going to be a big piece of what we do,” coach Jamal Jones said in August.

Benson Deible, Grant, junior

As a sophomore, Deibele started at the nose position and earned second-team all-PIL recognition, leading the team’s defensive linemen in tackles and tackles for loss. “He has a vicious strike that will knock any offensive lineman back,” Generals coach Alex Melson said. “He’s able to keep the offensive line off our linebackers and enables a lot of other people to make plays.”

Spencer Elliott, Summit, senior

An all-league pick on both sides of the ball as a junior, Elliott has bulked up to 240 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. “That kid probably had the biggest growth I’ve seen from a sophomore to a junior,” Storm coach Corben Hyatt said. “I coached him in the Les Schwab Bowl, and from the feedback I got, I think Spencer will be our breakout guy this year. … Having him and Chip (Allers) next to each other on the defensive line makes it tough on opponents.”

Matt Evans, Astoria, junior

Evans ended up making the all-Cowapa first team last season at nose tackle. Now a junior, he is a year bigger and smarter. “He worked hard this summer in the fishing industry. Not a traditional way to strength train, but he’s stronger and he looks great,” coach Howard Rub said.

Ashton Fields, Redmond, junior

Fields is a run-stuffing 3-technique who made second-team all-league as a sophomore with 52 tackles. “He really got after it as a sophomore and put in a great offseason for us,” coach Brent Wasche said. “He squats around 450 (pounds). We are looking forward to seeing him tear up some offensive lines.”

Will Friend, Vale, senior

Friend was a third-team 3A all-state selection who helped power the Vikings to a state semifinal appearance last fall. Coach Jeff Allred said Friend “could honestly play any defensive position on the field. He has one of the best motors of any player I’ve ever coached.”

Morgan Gallagher, Dayton, junior

Gallagher was one of the most dominant linemen in Class 3A last season as a sophomore, when he was Special District 1-West’s lineman of the year and a first-team all-state selection, finishing with 58 tackles (10 for loss) to help the Pirates win their first league title since 2016. “Morgan does not care about accolades. He is only focused on helping his team win,” coach Jacob Peterson said. “He will play any position and works his tail off.”

Braxton Golar, Powder Valley, senior

Golar played alongside all-state first-teamer Cade Lind last fall — he had five tackles (two for loss) and a sack in the 1A state final — and while he didn’t garner the recognition, his coach, Josh Cobb, called him “in my opinion, the best defensive tackle in the state, extremely quick off the ball.”

Pedo Gonzales Jr., Jefferson, senior

A first-team all-PIL defensive lineman as a junior, Gonzalez Jr. is bigger and stronger than he was last season, coach Anthony Stoudamire said, adding that Gonzalez Jr. has a high ceiling. “He’s going to be a good one,” Stoudamire said. “Once he decides he wants to do this, I think some colleges will be drooling over having him.”

Hunter Greer, Lakeview, senior

Greer was a two-way Class 2A all-state selection last fall, making the third team on the defensive line after finishing with 17 tackles (four for loss) and five quarterback hurries. The 6-3, 295-pound Greer has drawn interest from Western Oregon and Eastern Oregon. “Hunter has been a force in Lakeview’s trenches the last two seasons,” coach Ryan Moss said. “Though his stats may not show it, his dominance on defense allows our linebackers to freely make plays as he disrupts offensive linemen.” 

Matt Hopkins, Kennedy, senior

Besides earning 2A offensive lineman of the year honors in leading the Trojans to the 2021 state championship game, Hopkins also was a second-team all-state selection along the interior defensive line.

Parker Jarvis, Grants Pass, senior

Jarvis made an immediate impression on first-year coach Brad Page before the season, following a junior season in which he made the all-Southwest second team.

Cade Lind, Powder Valley, senior

Badgers coach Josh Cobb called Lind, a first-team 1A all-state selection and aspiring farrier, “pound for pound the strongest player on the team.”

Josh Merriman, Sheldon, senior

Merriman stuck to defense last year and was a first-team all-league pick (30 tackles, eight for loss, five hurries, two sacks), and the senior was in the best shape of his life entering camp. Merriman moved inside to defensive tackle this season. “He is the strongest player we have; he pushes more weight than anyone else,” Irish coach Josh Line said. “He was one of our best defensive players last year; he made more hustle plays than I can remember.” 

Matthew Moses, Cascade Christian, senior

Moses, a 6-2, 320-pound run stuffer, received first-team all-Far West honors for the Challengers last season.

Dominic Nacoste, Estacada, senior

Besides being named Tri-Valley offensive lineman of the year last fall, Nacoste also started at defensive tackle and made the 4A all-state second team with 24 tackles (seven for loss) and 2½ sacks.

Nathan Neveau, Pendleton, junior

Buckaroos coach Eric Davis raved about Neveau’s upside, saying “he has the potential to be one of the top offensive and defensive linemen we have coached.” He received all-NWOC East honorable mention on the defensive line as a sophomore, when he had eight tackles for loss and five sacks. “The ceiling is very high with Nathan,” Davis said. “I expect colleges to really take notice this fall.” 

Tobin Payne, Monroe, senior

Payne was a two-way all-state selection for the Dragons last season, including a third-team pick on defense.

Tom Riley, Coquille, senior

Riley was named 2A defensive lineman of the year in leading the Red Devils to the 2021 state title, finishing with 19 tackles (three for loss). “He never gives up and when he gets beaten, he works harder to not be beaten on the next play,” coach David Thomason said. 

Ethan Sanft, Southridge, senior

Sanft (6-3, 300 pounds) is the Skyhawks’ biggest player and plays tackle on both sides of the line of scrimmage. He was voted third-team all-Metro League on defense last season. “He’s a load. He’s tough to move,” coach Kevin Bickler said. “When we line him up at nose guard in our odd front, he’s a two-gap guy who can take up both A gaps and create issues for the opponent’s offensive line.”

Mike Sherrill, Crater, senior

Sherrill earned all-Midwestern honorable mention last season, when he had 21 tackles (four for loss) and a sack. “Mike is a coach’s dream. He shows up, works hard, leads by example and is always smiling,” Comets coach Berk Brown said. “He refuses to let anyone outwork him and is up to taking on any task.”

Boone Standley, Nelson, junior

Standley started every game he was healthy as a sophomore and put on close to 30 pounds in the offseason, pushing him to 6-foot-5, 265 pounds. He was second-team all-Mt. Hood Conference on the defensive line.

Kamalu Swift, Camas Valley, senior

Swift last season was an all-state 1A second-team selection on both sides of the ball, being named the league and state lineman of the year after finishing his junior season with 38 tackles. The four-year starter opened this season with 11 tackles in the season opener against Powder Valley. “Malu plays with a high motor and a lot of intensity,” coach Keri Ewing said. “He is what every coach wants in a lineman — fierce and competitive, yet a leader who will slow things down to help out the freshmen and sophomores.” 

Dmitri Trofimchik, West Salem, senior

A second-team all-league defender last season, Trofimchik is a well-built senior at 5-10 and 260 pounds. He is a key piece for the Titans on both lines. “He is another super strong weight room guy,” coach Shawn Stanley said. “He’s going to have to be a player for us again this year, just like he was last year.”

Patrick Wooley, Liberty, junior

As a sophomore, Wooley earned first-team all-Pacific honors with 24 tackles while battling constant double-teams. His size and run-stuffing ability should put him in college programs’ sights soon enough. “A tough player who moves well for his size,” Falcons coach Eric Mahlum said. “He gets off the ball well and moves the line of scrimmage. He’s worked hard in the offseason to become a two-way starter.”

Sylus Worthington, Newberg, senior

Worthington is another member of Newberg’s dominant wrestling program who is making an impact on the gridiron. He made the all-Pacific honorable mention list last season as a defensive tackle (21 tackles). “Sylus is strong, physical, and plays with a mean streak,” coach Jeremy Johnson said. “He was an extremely valuable defensive tackle for us and also a big force on the offensive line.” 

Our complete high school football preview:

Breaking down every 6A, 5A, 4A team in the state

State leaders through Week 5:

Class 6A | Class 5A | Class 4A