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

Who are the top safeties 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 safeties.

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! 

Marshune Waters (Grant) photo by Ken Waz 

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

Tyler Almasy, Cascade Christian, senior

Almasy is on the small side for a safety at 5-8, 170 pounds, but he packs quite a punch for the Challengers. He was a first-team all-Far West selection as a junior with 46 tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. 

Luke Bensching, Pendleton, senior

Bensching was a two-way all-NWOC East selection last fall for the Buckaroos, making the first team at free safety. He has drawn interest from several Division III schools in the region. “Luke is a ball hawk in the secondary and will be a leader on defense,” coach Eric Davis said.

Kaleb Burnett, Junction City, senior

Burnett plays wide receiver on offense, but coach Max Wall is more excited about what he will bring to the defense as a safety. He earned first-team all-league honors there a season ago. “He’s a 6-3, 175-pound safety who is really a good ballplayer,” Wall said.

Aiden Chenoweth, Crater, senior

Chenoweth made great strides as a first-time starter last season, finishing with 48 tackles (4½ for loss) and seven pass breakups in the secondary and earning all-Midwestern honorable mention. “He understands our defense and can get our defense lined up as good as anyone I’ve coached,” Comets coach Berk Brown said. “He made a lot of progress last year and needs to continue his growth as a football player.”

Johnny Clothier, Scappoose, senior

Clothier earned all-league honors on defense last year as a cornerback but moved to free safety this season. “We’re moving him because he understands the defense and what we’re trying to do,” coach Sean McNabb said. “He’s a good athlete, but also he’s a really good football player.”

Ethan Dunigan, Central, senior

Dunigan is a versatile defender who was voted second-team all-league at linebacker as a junior, when he finished with 45 tackles (five for loss). He plays a hybrid linebacker/safety role this season. “Ethan is the anchor of our defense,” coach Joel Everett said.

Nick Ferrero, Jesuit, senior

Ferrero, like Jace Burton, became a starter in the secondary during the spring season, then had a big junior season at safety, making the all-Metro second team. Unfortunately, a broken right foot ended his season.

Nick Gribble, Sherwood, senior

Coach Mark Gribble’s son received offers from Linfield and Pacific after a junior campaign for which he earned all-conference honorable mention in the secondary (18 tackles). “One of the more explosive players in our league, for sure,” Mark Gribble said. “He’s expecting to have a great year.”

Mark Hamper, West Linn, senior

Hamper earned all-state recognition on both sides of the ball last season, receiving honorable mention in the secondary (42 tackles, five interceptions, five pass breakups). He plays nickel in coach Jon Eagle’s defense, swinging between safety and outside linebacker. The state’s No. 11 prospect according to 247Sports has an offer from Portland State. Eagle called him “a coach on the field, super athletic … on defense, he’s very instinctual, plays well in space, with a physical style of play.”

Owen Hess, Dallas, senior

Hess is a two-way standout who recorded 92 tackles (fourth in 5A) at safety as a junior en route to second-team all-league honors. “He is a great athlete and a great leader,” Dragons coach Andy Jackson said. “He knows our system really well and is going to do a great job.” 

Brody Hubble, Mazama, senior

As a junior, Hubble made the all-Skyline first team as a linebacker (47 tackles, four for loss). He moved to new positions this season, playing halfback and strong safety. “Don’t let his size fool you,” coach Vic Lease said. “He plays bigger than he is.”

Kaden Huppin, Westview, senior

Huppin has tantalized with his potential and began to scratch it last fall, making the all-Metro third team in the secondary. “Kaden is a natural-born leader who has put in a lot of work bringing our team together in the offseason,” coach Ryan Atkinson said. “He is a very skilled athlete who can play multiple positions on offense and defense.”

Daniel Iwamizu, Hidden Valley, senior

Iwamizu not only was a first-team all-Skyline running back last fall, but he also was a second-team all-conference pick in the secondary. “He will carry the load for us on both sides of the ball,” coach Mike Fanger said in August. “I expect a big year from him.” 

Max Kirsch, Nelson, senior

Kirsch last season earned all-Mt. Hood Conference honorable mention at defensive back after tying for third on the team in tackles. “He comes downhill, can play the pass, can play the run,” Hawks coach Aaron Hazel said. “He’s a really tough, instinctual football player.”

Tyler Konold, Canby, junior

Konold not only led Class 5A in rushing yards as a sophomore but also made the all-state honorable mention list on defense despite never playing cornerback before last season. Cougars coach Jimmy Joyce moved him to free safety this season, calling Konold a “gym rat” in describing his dedication to improving his game. “He has really embraced what it takes to be a really good football player in this day and age,” Joyce said. 

Christian Lyda, Banks, senior

Lyda started last season at outside linebacker but moved to safety because of injuries in the secondary. He ended the season a second-team all-Cowapa selection with 67 tackles (nine for loss) and 3½ sacks, and the three-year starter is now entrenched there. “He knows the defense as well as anybody,” coach Cole Linehan said. “He understands our concepts, which puts him in good positions on the field.”

Jace Martin, Adrian, senior

Martin last season was a first-team 1A all-state selection on both sides of the ball for the state-champion Antelopes and won state titles in the 100 and 200 meters in May, breaking the 1A state record in the 100 and tying the 200 mark. A 4.0 student, he has multiple offers to run track in college. “He is a great student-athlete and will be fun to coach this year,” coach Billy Wortman said last month. 

Cole Martin, Powder Valley, senior

Martin was a first-team all-state selection for the 1A runner-up Badgers last season, coming up big in both their semifinal win over St. Paul (five tackles, interception) and the final against Adrian (team-high 12 tackles). “He’s 185 pounds, but he hits like he weighs 210,” coach Josh Cobb said. 

Jeray Mott Jr., Jefferson, senior

Last season, Mott Jr. was a first-team all-PIL selection at defensive back, and this year, he’s a little bigger and a little stronger, coach Anthony Stoudamire said. “He spent a lot of time working on things he needed to work on,” Stoudamire said, “and I think he’s going to be someone to watch this year.” 

Brayde Owen, Gladstone, senior

Gladiators coach Cam Sommer called Owen the team’s all-around best athlete. He proved that by earning first-team all-league honors at three positions last season, including in the secondary. He’s started to pick up some college interest, with Big Sky, Ivy League and Mountain West programs coming by during the offseason to catch a glimpse of him. 

Charlie Ozolin, Summit, senior

Despite intercepting seven passes as a junior, Ozolin was voted only second-team all-Mountain Valley. He is a returning two-year starter and potential Intermountain defensive player of the year candidate, coach Corben Hyatt said. “He is just phenomenal in the back half,” Hyatt added. “He sees things and is able to get guys in the right positions. We lost three defensive backs from last year’s team, but I feel good about that position because we have Charlie back there.” 

Tommy Pempel, Lincoln, junior

Pempel, who is 5-feet-8 and 155 pounds, made the all-PIL second team as a defensive back as a sophomore. “He hits like a truck, has great hands, is a fantastic route runner,” coach Matt Caruso said. “He will outwork anybody else in the room, both in viewing film and in the weight room.”

Isaac Peters, Sheldon, senior

A returning two-way starter, Peters is a second-team all-Southwest selection in the secondary who had 35 tackles and an interception last season. “Isaac is just a tried and true, sure-handed kid for us,” Irish coach Josh Line said. “And every now and then, Isaac will get behind someone.” 

Johan Poland, Madras, senior

Poland was a two-way all-Tri-Valley selection last season, making the first team in the secondary (33 tackles, four interceptions). He has drawn interest from several Division III schools in the region. “His work ethic and high football IQ allow him to make plays on both sides of the ball,” coach Judd Stutzman said. 

Drew Rodriguez, Sprague, senior

One of the most electric players in the state, Rodriguez made first-team all-league on offense, defense and special teams a season ago. He projects as a linebacker for Colorado State next year, but for now, he’s a hard-hitting safety for the Olympians. “Most games, Drew is going to be one of if not the best player on the field,” coach Jay Minyard said. “We have to hope he stays healthy so we can continue using him in a bunch of different ways.”

Hudson Staats, West Linn, senior

Staats shined as a ball-hawking safety last season, intercepting three passes and making 45 tackles and earning all-TRL honorable mention. One of the team’s fastest players, coach Jon Eagle called him a “Swiss Army knife for us.” 

Tanner Steinbach, Liberty, junior

Steinbach was another sophomore who shined from the get-go, making the all-Pacific second team as a safety with 47 tackles and an interception. Falcons coach Eric Mahlum described him as “a smart and instinctive player. As a safety, he is quick to react and can meet the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage, but also a great open-field cover guy and tackler.”

Alisjah Tucker, Southridge, senior

Tucker had a team-high four interceptions and ranked fourth on the team in tackles last season, earning third-team all-Metro League recognition at defensive back. Skyhawks coach Kevin Bickler calls Tucker “probably the most athletic kid we have on the team. He’s a great leader, super competitive.”

Colton Vandetta, Lebanon, senior

Vandetta was all-league on both sides of the ball last season (31 tackles and two interceptions in the secondary) and is a dangerous kick returner. “With Colton, it’s all about versatility,” coach Troy Walker said. “He’s a very elite baseball player and could maybe play both sports at the next level.”

Andreas Villanueva, Myrtle Point, senior

Villanueva last season was his league’s defensive player of the year and a second-team 1A all-state selection, making 50 tackles and intercepting 11 passes as a junior in leading the Bobcats to their first quarterfinal appearance since 2006. “Andreas is a phenomenal talent,” coach Ryan Miller said. “The game comes naturally to him, but he is also dedicated to practice and watching film.” 

Jack Wagner, Tualatin, senior

Wagner makes his mark this season at quarterback for the Timberwolves, but as a junior, he led the team with 111 tackles and four interceptions in making the all-Pacific second team at safety. “He is a natural leader, and I think he has an opportunity to have a big year,” coach Dominic Ferraro said during camp. 

Marshune Waters, Grant, senior

First-team all-PIL at defensive back last season, Waters is a key reason the secondary is a position of strength for the Generals. “He’s always around the ball,” coach Alex Melson said. “He’s physical. We can roll him into the box and let him make tackles. We can drop him in deep coverage. He’s really good at baiting quarterbacks and getting them to throw balls that he knows he can make plays on.” 

Darien Witham, Thurston, senior

Witham last season was a first-team 5A all-state selection in the secondary, making 45 tackles (3½ for loss) and two interceptions at safety. “His prowess as a defensive back is among the best in the state,” coach Justin Starck said. “Darien is an amazing leader and one of our best overall athletes.” 

Zach Wusstig, South Salem, senior

Wusstig transferred to South Salem after receiving 2A all-state honors as a junior at Jefferson. He is a three-star prospect and Oregon’s 20th-best senior, according to 247Sports. “He’s getting recruited right now and is a real good athlete,” coach Scott Dufault said. “He jumped out at us over the summer.”

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