HRV Hughes

Hood River senior quarterback Trenton Hughes throws a pass while pressured by Wilsonville's Donis Demonte during the Wildcats' 42-14 win over the Eagles in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state playoffs at Wilsonville High School on Friday, Nov. 12. 

The anatomy of Hood River Valley’s best football season in two decades can be traced to a core group of seniors, most of whom were recognized by the 5A Special District 1 coaches recently, when they voted for all-league teams.

Coach Caleb Sperry’s Eagles, runner-up in District 1, landed 11 first-team spots on offense and defense. League champion Pendleton had seven first-place selections, as did the league’s No. 3 state playoff representative, Ridgeview.

HRV was led by two-way, first-team seniors Trenton Hughes, Alex Whitaker and Ryles Buckley. Hughes was the offensive player of the year and first-team quarterback and safety. Whitaker was a first-team offensive and defensive lineman. Buckley was first team at wide receiver and cornerback.

Hughes was also a first-team all-league kick returner, though he arguably did so with the fewest actual kick returns in the history of the award. His first return of the season, in week one against Hillsboro, went for an 81-yard touchdown. Once word got out, and it did so quickly, few teams allowed him to touch the ball again as a return man.

Hood River had two other first-team selections on offense: receiver Mason Spellecy, who gave up his usual full-time fall baseball schedule to play football his senior year; and sophomore Malcom I’auluano, a The Dalles transfer, who had marked improvement this season. Senior lineman Rolando Flores, who missed both HRV playoff games because of a knee injury, was honorable mention.

The other Eagle first-teamers on defense were steady senior linebacker, Joey Frazier, who picked off a pass in HRV’s quarterfinal playoff game Friday at Wilsonville, and senior placekicker Robert Rowan.

Rowan had the dubious distinction of also earning first-team all-league status as a defender on HRV’s Intermountain Conference champion boys soccer team. Athletic Director Trent Kroll said, as far as he knows, that’s the first time an HRV athlete has earned first-team all-league honors in two sports, in two leagues in the same season.

Junior Shaw Burns was a second-team, all-league pick at running back and safety. Other second-team selections for the Eagles were: Jakob VonLubken (defensive line), Kyle Smiley (linebacker), and Spellecy (cornerback). Spellecy and Smiley were part of an athletic senior class, which helped the Eagles gel into one of the top eight teams in the 5A ranks.

Hughes said: “This team’s dynamic, it’s different than any team dynamic of any team I’ve played for. In year’s past we’ve had better teams, skill-wise. This year’s team has better chemistry.

“I think the leaders we have as seniors are really (on the same page). It’s been just a good dynamic.”

The Eagles were arguably one broken finger away from an undefeated regular season. HRV was leading Pendleton, 21-6, when Hughes broke a finger making a TD-saving tackle early in the second half. Hughes left the Sept. 24 game for good and the eventual league champion Buckaroos roared back to win, 35-21.

Part of HRV’s success was due to Hughes’ development as a quarterback. He said it took a while for the offense to get in sync. “After just repping every play off at the first of season, you don’t have that connection yet - with Mason and Ryles,” he said. “We were a run-first team, but our pass attack started to open things up.

“After more reps, you kind of have a different mindset, like who you’re going to throw to with 30 seconds left.”

Hughes was referring to his connection with Spellecy, who twice caught last-second, first-half touchdowns. Each throw changed the momentum of the respective games. The first was during HRV’s come-from-behind win Sept. 18 at Ridgeview; the second in the first round of the playoffs, sealing the Eagle’s comeback win against visiting South Albany.

The rebuilt Eagle line – missing two graduated players from the 2021 spring season who are now playing football in college - started to figure things out, as well. That gave Hughes a little more time to throw and the receivers more time to run their routes. “I’ve been proud of our line because they’ve stepped up really big,” Hughes said. “They’ve really done a great job.”