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

Who are the top linebackers 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 linebackers.

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! 

Vaun Halstead (Thurston) 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

Trevor Anderson, Mazama, senior

Besides taking over lead back duties on offense last year, Anderson finished the season as an all-state honorable mention as an inside linebacker with 73 tackles (10 for loss) and four sacks. “He is a force on both sides of the ball,” Vikings coach Vic Lease said.

Wyatt Anicker, Scappoose, senior 

Anicker is a three-sport athlete who demands to be on the field with his commitment to the game. He was undersized last year at linebacker, but he got used to playing the position. This offseason, he crushed it in the weight room, so he’s not so undersized anymore. “He’s going to come in with a lot of confidence,” coach Sean McNabb said. “A really smart kid. He’s going to do really well for us.”

Juan Beltran, Creswell, senior

Beltran set the school record for tackles in a game with 16 during a junior season that saw him make the all-league second team and finish with 80 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. “Juan is a tackling machine,” coach Scott Worsham said. “He’s a little undersized to play middle linebacker, but he makes up for it by making good reads, filling gaps and avoiding blocks.” 

Isaac Berning, Kennedy, junior

Berning was a third-team all-state selection as a sophomore middle linebacker for the 2A runner-up Trojans. 

Fynn Brechbiel, Gladstone, junior

Brechbiel started at linebacker and played fullback and tight end as a sophomore. He will continue to play linebacker this season after earning all-state honorable mention there last year, finishing with 36 tackles. Gladiators coach Cam Sommer said Brechbiel “put on a whole bunch of really good weight and is just a strong and smart kid.”

Riley Brock, The Dalles, senior

Brock last season was a second-team all-NWOC East linebacker (15 tackles, interception, two pass breakups). “He’s a talented athlete with good size,” first-year coach Marc Schilling said. 

Caleb Clardy, David Douglas, senior

A second-team all-Mt. Hood pick at linebacker last season, Clardy — a three-star recruit — leads a linebacker group that is a key to an improved defense for the Scots.

Reagan Clark, Amity, senior

Clark made the 3A all-state honorable mention list last season, when he had 36 tackles (nine for loss) and six quarterback hurries for the Warriors. 

Johnny Collyer, Westview, senior

Collyer led the Wildcats with 72 tackles (four for loss), two sacks and two fumble recoveries last season and received second-team all-Metro honors. He might be a little undersized for the linebacker position, but coach Ryan Atkinson called him “a hard-nosed, tough football player who works hard at everything he does. He’s a natural leader through action.”

Dawson Cook, La Pine, senior

Cook led the Hawks in tackles last season and was a third-team all-state selection for a 3A semifinalist. The 6-1, 195-pounder’s father, Travis, is an assistant under his former teammate, Bo DeForest, on the Hawks staff, and Dawson has been around the program forever. That immersion has led him to become one of the best linebackers in the state, DeForest said, adding that “I expect him to be a first-team all-state pick this year.” 

Braiden Copeland, West Salem, senior

The Titans received a boost in the transfer market by landing the former McNary standout, who was a first-team all-conference selection last season with 44 tackles.

Jacient Cox, Sunset, senior

Cox returns as a starter at inside linebacker (70 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, second-team all-Metro). His father, Jeremy, is on coach Damien Merrick’s staff, “and Jacient has been a Sunset kid since he was in diapers,” Merrick said. “He’s all-in on football as much as, if not more so than, anyone in the program.” 

Owen Crane, Vale, senior

Crane last season made the 3A all-state team on both sides of the ball, including a second-team selection at linebacker. He moved inside this season for the Vikings. “Owen is a great all-around football player,” coach Jeff Allred said. “I expect he will have the opportunity to play at the college level.” 

Tashi Crofut, Lakeridge, junior

Crofut developed into a solid starter at outside linebacker last season, making the all-TRL second team with 38 tackles (five for loss) and three sacks. Pacers coach Spencer Phillips called him “one of our best natural football players who has a great understanding of the game and is turning into a great team leader.”

Vaughn Croxton, Tigard, senior

Croxton was a second-team all-Three Rivers linebacker last fall, making 67 tackles (9½ for loss) and two sacks. He focused this offseason on working in the weight room and taking on a vocal leadership role. Tigers coach John Kemper has added to Croxton’s plate to take better advantage of his skill set. 

Hudson Davis, Newberg, senior

Davis could leave Newberg as one of the most decorated athletes in school history. Besides being a two-time defending state champion wrestler who plans to compete at the University of Wyoming, he also is the reigning Pacific Conference defensive player of the year and a second-team all-state linebacker (111 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles).

Nathan Dalton, Lost River, senior

Dalton was a two-way 1A all-state selection last season, leading the Raiders in tackles as a middle linebacker while also carrying the load at fullback. He had 17 tackles (eight solo) through two games this season. “That takes quite a toll, but he’s a big, physical, athletic kid,” coach Dennis Dunlea said. “He’s really started to shine as a leader. It’s about more than his statistics — it’s about the leader that he’s become.” 

Tony Dowens, Crater, senior

Dowens proved to be a pleasant surprise at linebacker last season, finishing second on the team with 56 tackles and recording 2½ sacks in earning second-team all-Midwestern honors. “He has been a leader for our program since the end of last year,” Comets coach Berk Brown said.

Seth Drago, Elmira, senior

The 5-11, 170-pounder was a second-team all-Sky Em selection for the Falcons last season and is one of their defensive leaders. “He is a kid we can move all over the field and has been solid for us this year,” coach Justin Peeler said. “He is a full-speed player for us.”

Dexter Foster, Roosevelt, junior

Foster was a first-team all-PIL linebacker as a sophomore and is the Roughriders’ top returning tackler. Coach Ryan McCants said Foster is 6-feet-3 and 210 pounds and not done growing. Foster had seven tackles for loss and three sacks last season, ranking second and co-second on the team in those categories. “Once he sees the ball, the way he closes is special,” McCants said. 

Mitchell George, Marshfield, senior

As a junior, George finished second on the team with 106 tackles (23½ for loss) and recorded a team-high 4½ sacks, earning first-team all-Sky Em honors. “Mitchell has put in a ton of work this offseason, and we look for him to shine not only on defense, but also on offense this year,” defensive coordinator Jacob Snoddy said.

Austin Goetz, Tigard, senior

Goetz was a two-way standout for the Tigers last season, making the all-TRL second team as an outside linebacker (31 tackles). He’s another player who dedicated himself to the weight room this offseason, adding 30 pounds, while improving his physicality. “I’m excited to see what kind of campaign he has for us,” coach John Kemper said in August. 

Kaleb Goozee, Crook County, senior

What Palmer Smith offers on offense for the Cowboys, Goozee brings to their defense — “a guy who’s a leader on both sides of the ball, a hammer with just that warrior mentality,” as coach Pard Smith described him. Goozee received all-league honorable mention after finishing second on the team to Tri-Valley defensive player of the year Braydon Duke in tackles with 56 last season. 

Travis Grantom, Willamette, junior

Grantom made the all-Midwestern second team last fall as a defensive lineman, but he moved to inside linebacker this season for the Wolverines. “He will be one of our team leaders,” coach Kevin Leonard said during camp. “He has a great motor and leads by example.” 

Vaun Halstead, Thurston, senior

Halstead’s future might lie on the wrestling mat (the reigning 5A 220-pound state champion has an offer from Oregon State) but he also was one of the top linebackers in the state as a junior, earning first-team all-state honors with 59 tackles (18 for loss, 4½ sacks). “Vaun is one of the most dominant linebackers in school history,” Colts coach Justin Starck said. “I believe he’s the best in the state. He is fierce and very productive.”

Aiden Hazen, Marist Catholic, junior

While the Spartans lost a bunch of production from last year’s defense, they did return Hazen at middle linebacker. Not only is he back for his junior season, his coach said he’s in even better shape than a season ago, when he made 53 tackles. “He’s dropped 20 pounds and gained a lot of muscle, gotten a lot quicker,” coach Frank Geske said. “I think he’s going to be one whole heck of a lot better player.” 

Ayden Holcomb, Madras, senior

Holcomb made the all-Tri-Valley honorable mention list as a junior, finishing with 29 tackles (two for loss) and two forced fumbles. “He’s a tough downhill linebacker,” coach Judd Stutzman said. “His work ethic in the offseason should pay off in the fall.”

Noah Holub, Valley Catholic, junior

Holub ranked among the state leaders in tackles for loss as a sophomore with 14, finishing with 55 tackles overall, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in earning first-team all-Cowapa honors. “He is our leader on defense,” coach Michael Snyder said. “He is our best tackler and hardest hitter, and one of the best competitors I have coached. He has huge potential and is someone who will be playing at the next level in a couple of years.”

Nick Hopper, Mountain View, senior

Hopper is an explosive all-around athlete who made second-team all-league at linebacker as a junior. He is a 4.0 student and a leader for the Cougars on and off the field. “At BOSS Sports Performance, he set the all-time record on the AssaultBike,” said Cougars coach Brian Crum, who noted that Hopper has the record over MLB players and current NFL players Cody and Jacob Hollister. “The kid is just a physical specimen … and we’re super excited to see what he’s going to do.”

Blake Hurley, Sunset, junior

Hurley started at outside linebacker from Week 1 as a sophomore and rarely looked out of place in earning third-team all-Metro honors, with his 52 tackles third-most on the team. “He knew what to expect coming in,” coach Damien Merrick said. “Blake obviously looked like a sophomore at times, but by the end of the season, he didn’t.”

Earl Ingle, West Linn, senior

Ingle played through a shoulder injury last season to become a Three Rivers co-defensive player of the year and a first-team all-state honoree, making 61 tackles and five sacks — all while taking over as the starting quarterback for the back half of the season. With transfer senior quarterback Sam Leavitt on board, Ingle can place his entire focus on playing linebacker, where he has drawn interest from several Group of Five and Division II schools. “Tough, physical, smart, athletic, a great leader with great work ethic,” coach Jon Eagle said. “Mix in a little crazy, and you have a dangerous linebacker.” 

Kevin Interian, Tualatin, senior

Interian, who has an offer from Pacific in Forest Grove, finished fifth on the Timberwolves last season with 71 tackles (four for loss) and forced three fumbles. “Kevin is one of our most consistent football players,” coach Dominic Ferraro said. “He just shows up every day and gets the job done.” 

Brysen Kachel, West Albany, junior

An all-state performer on both sides of the ball as a sophomore, Kachel is a special athlete who can play nearly every position on the field. He stands almost 6-foot-3, weighs around 235 pounds and finished with 33 tackles (5½ for loss) last fall. “Brysen is just a very unique football player, the type of kid that doesn’t come around very often as far as being big, strong, fast and smart,” coach Brian Mehl said. “His instincts are really good and he has big-time ability. I could go on and on about him.” 

Kaleo Kelly, Bend, senior

A returning starter next to Logan Malinowski at inside linebacker, Kelly played every snap on defense a season ago for the Lava Bears, finishing with 54 tackles. “Kaleo is one of the most physical kids we’ve had play for us in a long time,” coach Matt Craven said. “He is a super physical inside linebacker and is really fast to the ball. Kaleo and Logan work very well together as a tandem.” 

Luke Kelly, Oregon City, senior

Kelly has made the all-Three Rivers honorable mention list each of the past two seasons at linebacker. Pioneers coach Shane Hedrick called him “a very hard worker” who should also make an impact on offense this season. 

Logan Kind, Banks, senior

Kind has been on the move for Banks on both sides of the ball this season. He played guard as a junior but is now a wide receiver, while on defense, he’s taken over at middle linebacker after making the 2021 all-Cowapa second team with 74 tackles (nine for loss), 2½ sacks and two interceptions. “He just flies around the field,” said coach Cole Linehan, crediting him with saving their Week 1 shutout of Astoria by tracking a runner across the field to the sideline. “He’s just relentless back there.”

Tanner Kraushaar, Seaside, senior

A first-team all-Cowapa selection last season, he finished with 34 tackles (six for loss) as a leader of the Seagulls defense. “We can’t have him off the field,” coach Aaron Tanabe said. “He’s a ‘see-ball, get-ball’ kind of guy.”

Payton Lambert, Pendleton, senior

Lambert made the all-NWOC East second team last season at outside linebacker (eight tackles for loss). “I expect Payton to be a top performer in the state on both sides of the ball,” coach Eric Davis said in August. 

Luke Leighton, Sheldon, senior

Leighton made first-team all-league on both sides of the ball as a junior (68 tackles, five for loss, two interceptions) and will continue to be a two-way menace for the Irish. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Leighton holds offers from Air Force, Army and Portland State. “Luke is really intelligent, really tough, and he’s just a playmaker,” coach Josh Line said. “When we need something positive to happen for us in a big moment, he typically comes up with it.” 

Jaxon Logsdon, Baker, sophomore

Logsdon was a first-team all-GOL selection in the secondary as a freshman, but Bulldogs coach Jason Ramos moved him to outside linebacker this season. “He’s a tough, gritty player,” Ramos said. 

Maxwell Louber, South Albany, senior

A second-team all-league pick on both sides of the ball as a junior, Louber is in his fourth season as a defensive starter. He plays middle linebacker and fullback for the RedHawks. “He’s the leader for us defensively, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch his senior year,” said co-coach David Younger. 

King Luafutu, Century, junior

Luafutu entered the starting lineup on defense as a freshman and made the all-Pacific second team last season, finishing with 66 tackles (five for loss), two sacks and a forced fumble. “King understands the game very well and can play at a high level,” Jaguars coach Danny Kernan said.

Calvin Macy, Lake Oswego, senior

Macy made his mark last season on defense, making the all-state honorable mention list at linebacker with 63 tackles (4½ for loss) and two sacks. “He’s had a great offseason and will be a steady guy on defense,” Lakers coach Steve Coury said during camp. 

Logan Malinowski, Bend, senior

Malinowski pulls an unusual double-duty as a starter at inside linebacker and quarterback. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound senior was a second-team all-league pick on defense last season, finishing with 39 tackles. “He is one of the best reading linebackers we’ve had in a long time,” Lava Bears coach Matt Craven said.

Brennan Martin, Wilsonville, senior

Honorable mention all-NWOC West at linebacker last season, Martin is among the team’s top returning tacklers with 34 (three for loss) and three hurries.

Henry Masters, Tigard, senior

As a junior, Masters shared the team lead with 2½ sacks (21 tackles, four for loss) and made the all-TRL second team on defense.

Matt Mathis, Ridgeview, senior

Mathis is a star baseball player who made first-team all-league at linebacker as a junior. “He’s a great athlete, has a nose for the ball and will run through people,” Ravens coach Patrick Pileggi said. “Also, he’s got the best mullet in the state, if you ask me.” 

Sullivan McDaniel, Clackamas, senior

McDaniel was second on the team in interceptions last season (three), backing up coach James Holan’s description of him as a ball hawk. Holan said McDaniel is a sideline-to-sideline defender who plays downhill and with physicality. McDaniel was honorable mention all-Mt. Hood last year, and Holan would match him up with the best inside linebackers in Oregon. McDaniel is the team’s top returning tackler.

Jayden Moses, Grant, senior

Moses ranked second on the team in tackles last season behind PIL co-defensive player of the year Max von Arx. In addition to his tackling numbers, Moses forced two fumbles — most on the team — and was a first-team all-PIL selection at linebacker. “He’s one of our biggest impact players,” coach Alex Melson said.

Quinn O'Connor, Mountainside, senior

O’Connor’s versatility on defense, swinging between safety and linebacker, allowed him to shine (third-team all-Metro selection) for the Mavericks last season. He had a growth spurt over the summer, adding several inches and about 25 pounds, and “he’s someone I’m really excited about coming into his senior year,” coach John Mannion said. “He will be one of our main playmakers on both sides of the ball.” 

Ben Olsen, Molalla, junior

Olsen will help carry the ball on offense, but he’s at his best on defense. He earned second-team all-Tri-Valley recognition as a linebacker last season. The middle linebacker is the leader and signal-caller for the defense. “He’s a force on that inside,” coach Sean McElhaney said. “I think he’s just gotten better every year.”

Cody Phillips, Dufur, junior

Phillips was a first-team 1A all-state selection for the Rangers last season, leading the team with more than 100 tackles. Coach Jack Henderson called him “a great kid with a great motor, pretty good speed, and he really enjoys contact.”

Jackson Powell, Southridge, senior

Powell was a second-team all-Metro League pick at linebacker last season, when he led the Skyhawks with 65 total tackles, including three for loss. “At linebacker, he’s got a really high football IQ and a great nose for the football,” coach Kevin Bickler said. “He’s a big hitter.”

Waylon Riedel, Estacada, senior

Riedel starts at middle linebacker for the second year in a row for the Rangers after making 53 tackles (6½ for loss, 3½ sacks) as a junior. “Waylon’s a downhill, physical brute,” coach Andy Mott said. “His nickname is Tank, so that gives you an idea of what he looks like.” 

Brayden Ross, Sherwood, senior

Ross battled injuries the past couple of seasons but still managed to make the all-conference honorable mention list at linebacker last fall (29 tackles in five games). “We’re excited to have Braydon back,” coach Mark Gribble said. “He will be an impact player on both sides of the ball.”

Cole Shields, Cascade Christian, senior

Shields, a 6-1, 210-pounder, was a first-team all-Far West and third-team 3A all-state selection who had 46 tackles and 1½ sacks last season. 

Braden Snoderly, Canby, senior

Snoderly led the Cougars and ranked second in the conference with 97 tackles (eight for loss, 2½ sacks) last season, earning first-team all-NWOC West recognition on the defensive line. This season, he plays linebacker. Cougars coach James Joyce calls Snoderly (6-1, 235 pounds) the bell cow of the defense. “He’s a find-ball, hit-ball kind of guy,” Joyce said. “And he definitely has a motor about him.” 

Garrett Speer, Jesuit, senior

As a junior, Speer played alongside first-team all-state linebacker Johnny Miller and shined in his own right, earning all-state honorable mention. He showed his athleticism in the spring by placing fifth in the 110-meter hurdles at the 6A state track meet. “He has very good speed and finds the football on defense,” coach Ken Potter said. “He will be a leader on our team.”

Austin Stout, Rainier, senior

Stout last season was one of the leaders of the Columbians defense, earning 3A all-state honorable mention while making 27 tackles for the quarterfinalist.

Jerrik Wangler, North Salem, junior

Wangler received all-league recognition on both sides of the ball last season and is a two-year starter on defense. Vikings coach Jeff Flood said Wangler has a natural nose for the ball. “He just has that motor that never stops,” Flood said. “He’s a tackling machine and never seems to get caught up in the wash. He’s just an outstanding football player.”

Gilbert Whitlatch, Tillamook, senior

Whitlatch’s priority for the Cheesemakers is to anchor the defense as a linebacker, where he had 44 tackles and two sacks. “Let him focus on being the centerpiece and captain of our defense,” coach Kye Johnson said. “He’s a super hard-working kid.”

Will Wilson, Tualatin, senior

Wilson, an honorable mention all-TRL selection a year ago, was one of the most underrated players in the Tualatin defense, finishing third on the team with 79 tackles (10 for loss) and registering five sacks. He is a Northern Arizona commit who is No. 26 on 247Sports’ state recruiting list. “He’s a big, physical linebacker and one of the leaders of our defense,” Timberwolves coach Dominic Ferraro said.

Ben Winjum, West Linn, senior

For all the defensive talent West Linn boasted last season, it was Winjum who led the team with 79 tackles (four for loss, two sacks) in earning all-state honorable mention. “He has a knack for being around the ball before you expect him to be there,” coach Jon Eagle said. “He’s a big-play linebacker and plays the game faster than most.”

Mason Yochum, McMinnville, senior

If there were a statewide award for Most Improved Player, Yochum would have been at least a finalist last season — he made the all-Pacific first team and finished among the conference leaders in tackles for loss with 5½. Grizzlies coach Ty Tomlin watched him refuse to rest on his laurels in the offseason, becoming one of the top lifters in the weight room. “He just does what needs to be done and gets after it on defense,” Tomlin said. “He has a knack for not getting blocked and is one of our best tacklers.”

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