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

Who are the top cornerbacks 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 cornerbacks.

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!

Roman Burrow (West Salem) photo by Leon Neuschwander  

Our complete high school football preview:

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

State leaders through Week 6:

Class 6A | Class 5A | Class 4A

Devon Anderson, North Eugene, senior

Anderson was a triple threat for the Highlanders last season, earning first-team all-Sky Em honors at cornerback, where he was an all-state honorable mention selection (20 tackles, four interceptions, five pass breakups). He has received interest from Oregon State, Nevada, Idaho and Eastern Washington. Coach Rick Raish called him “one of the most gifted athletes I’ve coached in 24 years of coaching high school football.”

Justice Anthony, McKay, junior

An all-league selection on both sides of the ball last season, Anthony is the most competitive player in McKay’s program, coach Brandis Piper said. “He’s started every game for us since he’s been here,” Piper said. “He’s an extremely confident player, and that allows him to play looser than most people.” 

Eli Brown, Stayton, senior

Brown was a two-way starter for the Eagles last season, earning first-team all-Oregon West honors in the secondary.

Roman Burrow, West Salem, senior

A first-team all-league defensive back last fall, Burrow possesses impressive strength despite his average size (5-foot-9, 180 pounds). “When he got the chance to carry it last year, it was pretty eye-opening,” coach Shawn Stanley said. “He’s still going to play both ways. As an all-league defensive player, I don’t think we can just totally shut him down on defense.”

Jace Burton, Jesuit, junior

Burton is the son of former Portland State coach and Crusaders defensive coordinator Nigel Burton. He made his presence known during the COVID-shortened spring season, then broke through last fall as a two-way standout, earning all-state honorable mention in the secondary. He ranks No. 11 on 247Sports’ class of 2024 recruiting list. “He plays bigger than his size (5-9, 175 pounds),” coach Ken Potter said. “He was excellent in the secondary and was a big plus for us last year in the slot. He’ll be a key figure on our team.”

Owen Cheyne, Henley, senior

Cheyne was an all-Skyline selection at four positions last season, making the second team on defense (18 tackles, eight pass breakups and an interception). He spent the summer starring for the Klamath Falls Falcons baseball team, earning the win on the mound in the regional final that advanced the Falcons to the Senior Babe Ruth World Series in Ephrata, Wash. “He’s that Swiss Army guy for us, super athletic and dependable,” coach Alex Stork said. “We obviously project him to be a key contributor on both sides of the ball.” 

Milan Clark, Grant, senior

After being selected first-team all-PIL at defensive back last season, Clark also became a starter at wide receiver this year. Generals coach Alex Melson said the 6-foot-2 Clark is relatively new to organized football, but that hasn’t kept him from making an impact. “The last few years, we’ve always had a defensive back who has been able to compete at the highest level in the state,” Melson said. “This year, we found that in him.”

Trey Dieringer, Scappoose, senior

Dieringer is a three-year starter who excels on defense, receiving all-league honorable mention last season, when he made 72 tackles (4½ for loss), forced four fumbles and intercepted two passes. “He’s not easy to block, and he’s got a nose for the football,” coach Sean McNabb said. 

MyQuis Fesser, Roosevelt, senior

Fesser, second-team all-PIL as a defensive back last season, is the cornerstone of the Roughriders’ defense, coach Ryan McCants said. “He can go one-on-one with the best of them. He has a high football IQ,” McCants said. Fesser made two interceptions last season and returned one for a touchdown. 

Logan Fry, Oregon City, senior

Fry was an unknown commodity to start his junior season, but he came on strong by year’s end to earn second-team all-TRL recognition in the secondary. “A solid leader on and off the field,” Pioneers coach Shane Hedrick said. “He will contribute on both sides of the ball.”

Boston Hodges, Dayton, junior

Hodges made the 3A all-state third team as a sophomore, making 16 tackles and breaking up a team-high six passes. He also starts at quarterback for the Pirates (332 passing yards, five touchdowns). “He is a lockdown corner whose speed and athleticism allow him to be matched up with most anyone in the state, and his vertical allows him to challenge for any jump ball,” coach Jacob Peterson said. “His stats won’t be as good as teams will not throw at him very much.” 

Demarcus Houston, West Albany, senior

A three-star prospect and the state’s No. 3 senior in the 247Sports composite rankings, Houston is an electric athlete who holds Division I offers from Oregon State and Portland State. He was a second-team all-league pick at defensive back as a junior, finishing with 19 tackles and two interceptions. “Demarcus has a lot of ability,” coach Brian Mehl said. “I think he’s made great strides going into his senior year, and he’s definitely a kid on offense and defense that we are going to rely on heavily.”

Cory James, Estacada, senior

James not only was the 2021 Tri-Valley offensive player of the year at quarterback, but he also earned honorable mention all-state recognition in the secondary, finishing with 17 tackles and four interceptions. “He’s a great athlete,” Rangers coach Andy Mott said. “He brings a ton to the table on the field, and so this will be another big season for him.” 

Benito Jennings, Pendleton, junior

Jennings is a do-everything dynamo for the Buckaroos, making the all-NWOC East list at three positions last fall — including second team in the secondary (three interceptions). Western Oregon has interest in him as a cornerback. “Benito is a very talented athlete with top-end ball skills,” coach Eric Davis said.

Keontae Johnson-Gibson, Clackamas, senior

Johnson-Gibson finished last season with four interceptions — two of which he returned for touchdowns — and made the all-Mt. Hood second team. “He’s a tremendous football player for us,” coach James Holan said.

Hunter Layton, Coquille, senior

The second-team all-state selection had 14 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries for the 2A state champion Red Devils last season. “What Hunter lacks in size (5-10, 150), he makes up for with ability and know-how,” coach David Thomason said. “It seems like whenever we have a turnover, it is Hunter, or he is right there around the action. He has been and will continue to be our quarterback on the defense.”

Jack Lyda, Banks, senior

Lyda received 4A all-state honorable mention last season, when he made 30 tackles and broke up five passes. He was voted a team captain this year and is “another guy who never comes off the field,” coach Cole Linehan said. “He’s a workhorse and a great leader who works his butt off.”

Sanborne Melson, Jefferson, senior

Democrats coach Anthony Stoudamire called Melson “probably our best cover cornerback.” Melson missed some of last season while injured, and now that he’s healthy, the state’s No. 14 recruit in 247Sports’ rankings could surprise the rest of the league, Stoudamire said. “When he’s healthy, he’s a lockdown corner,” Stoudamire said. 

Tyler Moncrief, Tillamook, senior

A great student in the classroom and a brilliant football IQ guy, Moncrief led Class 4A with five interceptions last season and received all-state honorable mention. It wasn’t just athletic skills. He is athletic, but he also uses that IQ to put himself in the best position to make a play, Cheesemakers coach Kye Johnson said.

Malaki Myer, Baker, junior

Myer was a big-time playmaker for the Bulldogs last fall, leading the team in receiving and intercepting four passes. He earned second-team all-GOL honors as a cornerback. He also was a first-team kick returner and had a game in which he returned a punt and an interception for touchdowns. In the spring, he won district titles in the 200 and 400 meters and anchored the district champion 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

Jace Nagler, Ridgeview, senior

Nagler was a second-team all-league defensive back last season, when he had 27 tackles and broke up 16 passes. Ravens coach Patrick Pileggi said the 5-foot-11 Nagler did a great job of containing 6-5 Thurston star Jacob Newell, who is now at Arizona State. “They threw to him all game and he only had one or two catches,” Pileggi said. “A lot of that was Jace. I think he’s one of the best cornerbacks I’ve ever coached.”

Kaden Nelson, La Grande, senior

Nelson became a starter at cornerback last season and led the team in interceptions, earning first-team all-GOL honors. “He’s just a natural athlete who’s worked to get to where he’s at,” Tigers coach Rich McIlmoil said. “I expect him to be a leader for us.”

AJ Noland, Tualatin, junior

Noland only scratched the surface of his talent on both the gridiron and the hardcourt last season, helping the Timberwolves reach the 6A football final and win the basketball title. He made the all-Three Rivers second team in the secondary (56 tackles, three interceptions). He ranks No. 12 on 247Sports’ list of junior recruits in the state. “AJ is an explosive athlete and can, and will, play multiple positions for us,” coach Dominic Ferraro said. “He will be a big factor on both sides of the ball.”

Trevor O'Leary, Glencoe, junior

O’Leary last season earned all-Pacific honorable mention as a kick returner and defensive back (19 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception), which Crimson Tide coach Ian Reynoso thinks could be his college position despite taking over quarterback duties this season. “Trevor has really good playmaking abilities,” Reynoso said. “It’ll be fun to see him kind of grow up and develop these next two years.”

Isaac Real, South Umpqua, senior

As a junior, Real was a first-team all-state selection in the secondary for the 3A runner-up Lancers, ranking among the state leaders with five interceptions. “He can make big plays in all three phases of the game,” coach Steve Stebbins said. 

David Roberts, North Bend, senior

Roberts is a two-way starter who made the all-Midwestern honorable mention list as a cornerback last fall. He qualified for the state golf tournament in May, finishing 28th. “He’s an athletic receiver who we hope will catch a lot of footballs for us this season,” coach Gary Prince said in August. “He also does a great job at cornerback.” 

Elijah Traeger, Kennedy, junior

Traeger was a 2A all-state honorable mention selection for the Trojans last season. He has added starting quarterback duties this year, taking over for all-state first-teamer Riley Cantu.

Andrew Walker, South Medford, senior

A senior speedster, Walker was a bright spot for South Medford a season ago. He made first-team all-league on offense and defense and proceeded to win the 100 (10.61 seconds) and 200 (21.33) meters at the 6A track state championships. “Andrew has fantastic top-end speed,” coach Bill Singler said. “We are expecting him to have a great year on both sides of the ball.”

Our complete high school football preview:

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

State leaders through Week 6:

Class 6A | Class 5A | Class 4A