Each year, the Les Schwab Bowl offers a unique experience for the top graduating senior football players in the state of Oregon.
This year, in the 71st edition of the North-South clash, there will be a definite local flavor to Saturday’s game at Hillsboro Stadium, with two coaches and seven players from Southern Oregon helping lead the way for the South squad.
“Having some local flavor up here is fun, it’s good,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler, who will make his debut as Les Schwab Bowl head coach after four years as an assistant coach.
Singler is joined by Panthers defensive coordinator Chris Parnell and five of his players in quarterback Robbie Patterson, running back Jaylin Parnell, receiver Jaalen Owens and linemen Brandon Ditty and Michael Cormier. Also on the South roster will be Crater defensive back Cade Weaver and Grants Pass linebacker Rich England.
“It’s a pretty cool time for South Medford up here at the Les Schwab Bowl,” added Singler, “and we’re just trying to enjoy all of it.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, the two squads are even in victories at 33 apiece with four ties. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m., with four 15-minute quarters. Clackamas head coach Joe Bushman will guide a North squad that includes his 6A championship quarterback (Mitchell Modjeski) and running back (James Millspaugh) and Washington State-bound tight end Isaiah Henderson-Brazie from Jesuit.
“Anytime you compete in any arena, winning is your goal, no question about it,” said Singler, who led the Panthers to a Class 6A state runner-up showing last fall. “But here you have to take into account the big picture. The experience of that game is going to last about two hours but the overall experience will last six days and we want them to enjoy all of it and come away with new friends and learn how to handle themselves around new people as they continue to grow as young men. But as the game gets going, it’ll become very competitive.”
With the North squad made up almost entirely of Portland-area products, it can become a bit of a statement “us against them” game as other areas look to prove they’re worthy of gaining a greater spotlight for college recruiting.
“It’s important for us to win because I feel like they think they’re better,” said Patterson, “but I think we can go out there and show them that we can play, too. That’s important for us to go out and try to get that win.”
Patterson was a second-team all-state selection after completing 173 of 251 passes for 2,412 yards, 30 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The 6-foot, 197-pounder, who is headed to Saddleback Community College, expressed excitement to have so many weapons at his disposal, reminiscent of how he felt during the Panthers’ outstanding 2017 campaign.
“I think we have a lot of big guys and can move the ball up front with a lot of power,” said Patterson, “but we can also make plays on the outside. We have a lot of fast guys so I expect some big plays.”
“I think our South guys are going to do pretty well, too,” he added. “Obviously Jaylin is Jaylin, and Mike and Ditty are really working hard up there with some of the bigger dudes and J.O. is just as fast as the other guys so he’s been really looking good.”
Parnell and Ditty were each first-team all-state selections, with Parnell earning that distinction on both sides of the ball as the Class 6A defensive player of the year at linebacker to go with his role as running back. Owens earned second-team all-state honors at receiver and cornerback, while Cormier and Ditty were second-team defensive linemen.
All of the Panthers expect to play primarily on offense but may be tasked for defensive relief given the limited roster numbers (35 for South not including the kicker). Having so many players familiar to Singler’s stripped-down system should help as the South team attempts to build continuity on offense.
“It’s nice to have Robbie as one of the quarterbacks because in the huddle he can clear up a lot of things,” said Singler. “And with linemen like Ditty and Cormier and then Parnell and J.O., at times we have five (South Medford) kids in the game playing offense and that’s kind of cool. You don’t have to teach them as much so half your offense already knows what to do.”
Beyond the two practices per day beginning Monday, players have spent the bulk of this week getting to know each other a little better and that always lends itself to some eye-opening experiences.
“It’s been really fun getting to know a lot of the other guys from different schools that you played against or heard of,” said Parnell, who rushed for a school-record 1,442 yards and 24 TDs last fall and was the Panthers’ leading tackler. “With a lot of the teams, you go and play games and are like, ‘Oh, I don’t like that dude,’ but after hanging out with them awhile you get to know that they’re not really bad guys and guys you’d probably be hanging out with if they went to your school.”
The Western Oregon-bound Parnell — who will also be joined there by Owens — will be one of only two running backs on the South roster, with Hermiston’s Jonathan Hinkle the other, so his workload projects to be fairly high. He’s always fired up to stay on the field, though, so the hardest part may be in limiting his role at linebacker. Still, he’s pretty excited about what this team has to offer when squaring off against the North.
“We’ve got some tanks up front, some real power guys driving dudes off the line, so I’m pretty excited about it,” said Parnell. “And I think our receivers are going to go off with guys like Bryce Goggin from Willamette and Tyson Haas from Thurston and J.O., and the Pendleton QB (Nick Bower) and receiver (Shaw Jerome) are pretty good, too.”
As for his hometown signal-caller?
“I don’t even have to mention Robbie because everybody knows he’s doing good,” said Parnell. “You know what you’re going to get from him, he’s special and always on point. I love playing with him.”
Weaver, who has committed to Southern Oregon University, is another versatile option for the South squad at defensive back, running back and receiver, with the 6-1, 185-pound Crater standout named Class 5A honorable mention all-state on both sides of the ball.
England will be a preferred walk-on at Oregon this fall and is among the biggest hitters on the field. He will be given considerable help up front by South Salem defensive lineman Alex Sanchez, who has made quite an impression already this week before he joins Portland State.
“Sanchez is really impressive,” said Patterson. “He’s in the backfield almost every single play.”
However the game plays out, Patterson said the most important thing will be having one more time in the huddle with his buddies before moving on to college.
“It’s fun to be out there and just kind of toss the ball around a little bit, especially before school starts,” he said. “It’s good to be back with all the local guys again before we go our separate ways.”
The teams have been separated for most of this week, coming together to watch “Solo: A Star Wars Story” on Tuesday, spending some time bowling and at the arcade at Big Al’s on Wednesday and, most importantly, the annual wing-eating contest at Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursday after visiting a group home for boys and providing a skills camp.
“If I’m not in it, I’m gonna be pretty disappointed,” Parnell said with a laugh of the wings battle. “I’m trying to shine, I feel like this is my contest.”
Hopefully the same goes on Saturday, but Parnell isn’t too concerned with the final score.
“I just want everybody to know I play hard, that’s it,” said the 6-foot, 202-pounder. “I don’t care how it goes as long as they know I play hard.”