TURNER – The rumor was that Malachi Gonzalez was going to move.
He has, but in a different way.
Instead of moving to Utah, the Cascade High School senior is moving to fullback and linebacker from his previous role as a lineman.
Gonzalez’ presence on the team is as valuable on the sideline as it is on the gridiron.
“You lose anybody, you’re upset,” Cascade coach Steve Turner said. “Yeah, he’s a great player, but that’s not why we were upset. He’s too much of a part of us, and this group of kids.”
Gonzalez’ family initially was going to move this summer, but since their house isn’t yet on the market he was told he could still play his senior season of football for Cascade.
He moves to fullback from the offensive line – which he only played in Cascade’s scrimmage after a broken right arm.
On defense he moves to middle linebacker to fill the team’s need from defensive line, where he was a first-team all-Oregon West Conference player after recording 23 tackles as a junior.
Just don’t expect anyone to pronounce his first name correctly on the first try.
“He’s a solid player,” said senior lineman Aiden Littau. “He’s been with us since fifth grade so losing him is like losing part of the soul of the team because he was the guy who gets us all pumped up.”
Gonzalez is one of seven returning starters on defense, and he will combine with senior Garrett Coffey and Hayes VanDeHey, who also moves to linebacker from the defensive line.
The team will be athletic in the defensive backfield with a cast including Garrett Yunker, Lucas Bjorklund, Michael Biddington, Hunter Thomas and John Schirmer.
“There’s a ton of people, especially on the D-line. They rotate like crazy,” Coffey said. “The D-line is definitely really good. Last year as a linebacker a lot of the time I wouldn’t make many tackles because the D-line would make the tackle before they would get close to me.”
While the defense returns seven starters, the offense returns 10.
Schirmer, the 6-foot-3 senior quarterback, played significant minutes as a sophomore, but grew greatly as a junior, going 100-for-182 passing for 1,164 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He’s definitely a lot more confident than he used to be,” said Coffey, last year’s Oregon West Conference Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,019 yards and 12 touchdowns. His skills have gotten a lot better. He’s grown a little bit and he’s stronger.”
Schirmer should have back one of the best targets in the state in senior receiver Cameron Molan.
Molan sprained an ankle while playing in Hoopla, but is expected back in plenty of time for Cascade’s season opener against Scappoose.
“He’s doing his diligence, therapy,” Turner said. “He’s out here every day even when he can’t practice. He did so much stuff duirng the summer time that he knows exactly what he’s doing. If he’s not the best 4A wide receiver, I don’t know who is.”
Cascade also returns No. 2 receiver Bjorklund and adds in receiver James Baxter, a transfer who played significantly at Sprague last year.
The Cougars return their entire offensive line in Chris Allen, Cody Teal, Dominic Federico, Littau and Trystin Combs.
That group paved the way for Cascade to rush for an average of 250 yards per game last season.
“That’s always nice to not have to bring someone new in,” Littau said. “We’ve got the connection a line does because we’ve played together for a whole entire season.”
With a lot of experienced and talented football players back in all the important places, there is reason to assume that Cascade will be a contender for the state title.
“I didn’t go to Utah … I came here to win a state championship,” Gonzalez said. “Even if that means I have to tell my players we need to work harder and even if they tell me you need to work harder, we need to compete in practice, that’s the reason I wanted to stay.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or Twitter.com/bpoehler
High school football tour
Wednesday: South Salem
Thursday: North Salem
Saturday: West Salem
Aug. 24: Central
Aug. 25: Silverton and the Mid-Willamette Conference
Aug. 26: Stayton and the Oregon West Conference
Aug. 27: Blanchet and the PacWest Conference and West Valley League
Aug. 28: Perrydale and Class 1A and the Tri-River Conference
Coach: Steve Turner, fourth year.
2014 record: 5-0 Oregon West Conference, 8-2 overall, lost in second round of 4A state playoffs.
Sept. 4 vs Scappoose, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Seaside, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 at Junction City, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Newport, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 vs. Yamhill-Carlton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 at Stayton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 vs. North Marion, 7 p.m.
Garrett Coffey, Sr., RB/LB: Rushed for 1,019 yards and 12 touchdowns and made 58 tackles as a junior and was the Oregon West Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Cameron Molan, Sr., WR/DB: Caught 40 passes for 567 yards and five touchdowns as a junior and is one of the top athletes in the state.
Aiden Littau, Sr., OL/DL: A first-team all-league player on offense last year who makes his presence felt.
Outlook: The Cougars return 10 starters on offense and seven on defense and are a legitimate threat to win the 4A state championship.