Tigers plan to learn on the field

Linebacker Justis Tarpely (left) and junior quarterback Kenji Teramura are two important returning starters for the Ontario Tiger football team. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

ONTARIO – At first glance, it could appear as if the 2018 edition of the Ontario High School varsity football team faces a rebuilding year.

The Tigers will open their 4A season Aug. 31 against Mazama High School of Klamath Falls without two key starters from last season – quarterback Mike Mejia and running back Ethan Kameshiga. Both graduated.

Coach Erik Johnson, though, isn’t pushing the panic button. He said his team is youthful, but a core group of varsity veterans return.

“We do return our line. All but one of them is back,” said Johnson.

On defense, Johnson said the Tigers will return five starters, including veteran middle linebacker Justis Tarpely.

“We will lean on him a lot,” said Johnson.

Johnson said he is also pleased with the player who will step into Mejia’s spot over center. Junior Kenji Teramura will lead the Tiger offense this fall, and Johnson said he already has the skills for success.

“He is a big kid with a strong arm. He has a lot of tools. He runs the ball really well and we feel very confident with him running the offense,” said Johnson.

Last season, the Tigers logged an 8-3 overall record and the Greater Oregon League championship. In the state semi-finals, they lost to Marshfield 48-28. 

Johnson said that a lot of his rookie varsity players will have to pick up experience fast. 

“There is so much inexperience that there is a lot of anticipation, I guess. We have got guys that we will have to see how they adapt and adjust,” said Johnson.

Still Johnson said he isn’t too concerned.

“We will adjust things personnel wise, but I feel good. We have some athletes and a lot of it will depend on how these guys mesh,” said Johnson.

Johnson did not get into specifics about what type of offense he will run this year. 

“We are going to tweak things to fit our personnel a little bit,” he said.

Ontario, Baker City, La Grande and McLoughlin/Griswold round out the Greater Oregon League and each team will play the other twice. 

 “Baker is always good, La Grande always has athletes,” said Johnson.

Baker Coach David Johnson said he sees La Grande and Ontario battling for the league title.

“Ontario has the quality program going right now. La Grande is in transition again, but they are athletic,” said Johnson. Johnson said the Bulldogs are inexperienced.

“We have a few kids that have been on the field, but they are still young,” said Johnson. 

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.