Jefferson football back to business

Title-winning coach returns to program

As the joys of unmasked athletics began for high school students across Oregon in mid-August, Jefferson senior Dondrae Fair looked forward to the fall season for all the normal reasons team sports are important to young adults.

“We’re going to be a good team because we’ve got a great bond amongst the players,” Fair said. “There’s a good group of seniors on the team. We’ve all grown up in the program together and been able to hang out during the summer. That’s really going to help us play better as a team. 
“I’m really excited about playing again.”

Fair, like all other high school athletes in Oregon, endured a year of hybrid education, and the constant possibility of not being able to play at all until several months into the school year. The five-week-long football season started in mid-February with only two weeks to prepare for the first game. Everyone needed to wear a mask, even on the field during games. There were no playoffs.


“We had a season, but we didn’t have much time to prepare and it was tough with not being around each others during the day because we weren’t in school,” Fair said. “It really wasn’t much of a season, so it feels like we’ve had two years off.”


Fair, who plays quarterback, is in his third year with the varsity team - with a new head coach each year. The Demos’ coach this fall, though, is Anthony Stoudamire, who led the program from 2006-11 and to the state title game in 2009. He’s been working as offensive coordinator at Roosevelt the past four years.


“He’s brought exactly what the program needed - discipline,” Fair said. “He’s holding everyone accountable for what they need to do to be a better player, and that’s really helpful for us being a good team.”


“It’s not like we didn’t have discipline last season,” said senior Trejon Williams, who leads the defense at safety. “But there wasn’t much chance to get things together once there was a season, and it was heavy on us to be a team.”


Jefferson finished 2-3 with all of its games being played during what is traditionally basketball season, and under a first-year coach.


“It was a good season, but it was weird,” Williams said.


Jefferson plays its home opener Friday at 7 p.m. against Lakeridge.


Stoudamire returned to the Jefferson campus in July after Houston Lillard, older brother of Trail Blazers star Damian, resigned and returned to self-employment in Oakland, Calif., with Team Lillard Football/HL5 Sports.


A graduate of Washington High in 1972, Stoudamire played at Portland State in ‘73-75, and found his way to the Jefferson program in 1978. He served as an assistant for 19 years, and also started a youth program in the 1980s. After a stint away from the school, he returned as head coach and led the Demos to a 44-27 record in his six seasons.


The move from Roosevelt was one Stoudamire didn’t look for, but didn’t resist when the opportunity arose.


“I had a great group of players at Roosevelt, and a great group of coaches so it was a tough decision,” he said. “But, I told them this is where my coaching career started, this is the community where I live, and it’s got a special place in my heart. The lure of coming back was just a little too much.”


Stoudamire said he’s seen the program advance in its team unity quickly after his return became public knowledge July 28. His hiring came in a summer when the school replaced its athletic director as well. Falisha Wright moved into that position at the same time Stoudamire returned.


Once hired, Stoudamire found a core of assistant coaches that includes DeAngelo Bell, who played under him through 2010 before a college career at Montana Tech. His other assistants are Alexander Johnson, DeAngelo Edwards, Jon Simpson, Tony Van Zant, and the school’s wrestling coach Montral Brazile.


“There were a lot of kids who were kind of down because they didn’t know who their coach was going to be,” Stoudamire said. “But things are going well, and the vibe here gets better every day.


“I’m trying to make things fun, too, so it’s not just focused on practicing hard for two, three, four hours. We put things in the middle of practices to be fun. We keep things moving, so there’s not a lot of standing around.”


The Demos reached the Class 5A playoffs in all six seasons under Stoudamire, and won at least one playoff game in the first five seasons. In 2012, Stoudamire left to run the team at Benson, but low player numbers caused that program to struggle and he resigned after having won just one game in three seasons.


Continual low numbers have caused Benson to eliminate football altogether. Low numbers caused Cleveland to move to just a junior varsity schedule this fall, leaving the PIL with seven varsity teams.


Jefferson has not had a problem attracting players, especially freshmen. Coaches were expecting as many as 50 players to be on the sideline for either a varsity or junior varsity game.


“We probably have enough kids for just a freshman team,” Stoudamire said, “but that’s a hard thing to schedule these days.”


Stoudamire isn’t just bringing decades of experience coaching high school players, but also a year of coaching women’s players, too. He started the Oregon Ravens women’s team this year, leading a team of 32 players to a 1-5 record in the 20-team Women’s National Football Conference.


“Anyone who writes a story about me needs to promote my women’s team,” he said proudly.
The league schedule ran from May through June, and included road games for the Ravens at Seattle and San Diego.


Williams said he’s looking forward to not only playing, but playing against Roosevelt, Oct. 7.
“That’s the one game I really remember from last season,” he said of the Demos’ 32-14 win. “It was a crazy game on the field, and then we had all that rain.”


Fair said having his senior season return to the normal schedule is a big lift. And, he’s ready for crowd noise.


“It’s going to be great to get on the field again,” Fair said, “and show everyone what we can do; what Jefferson football is all about.”


--Cliff Pfenning