By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Filling big-time names in football programs anywhere is a hard thing to do no matter the caliber of the team.
When your graduating Aldofo Lua, Leo Silva and Matt Jarding at Linebacker as McKay had entering the 2017 season with names like Kevin Her coming back, it’ll be up to someone new to step in and help fill-in those big shoes left by the Big 3 from 2016.
That’s where two first-time Varsity players got their opportunity: Sophomore Zair Ku Beiza and Junior Jonathan ‘Johnny’ Mentado.
Ku Beiza, who finished third in the Greater Valley Conference 195 pound weight class in a triple-overtime thriller to go to State, is more the happy-go-lucky hitter while Mentado, who too wrestles with the Scots, is more like that traditional ‘Let’s get it done’ with his personality.
“Honestly, when I go out there, your my enemy, I’m competing with you, I just put in work,” Mentado said of his personality. “But, out here on the field, these are my brothers. This is family, this is my second family, my home away from home.
“I would definitely say out-going because whatever position you put me at, I’m just going to try my best and if I do good, I do good,” starts Ku Beiza. “If I do bad, I’m just going to keep trying until I get it right.
“Goofy. Goofy,” Ku Beiza added with a laugh about his personality. “Because whenever I’m on the field, off-the field I’m trying to have fun, but I also know when to lay down the law and say when it’s time to work.”
Mentado too wonders how Ku Beiza stays so positive and smiling even in the worst of moments on the gridiron, pointing once to when their defense gave up a big score and Ku Beiza comes off the field with that, ‘hey we’ll get it back’-personality.
“I mean he’s friendly as can be on the field he’s always smiling,” Mentado said with a grin and breaking his seriousness for a moment talking about Ku Beiza as those moments arise when he looks over and see Ku Beiza grinning and with positive vibes. “It honestly ticks me off, ‘we’re losing by some points and we just got scored on how can you be smiling right now? Work on what you have to fix and stuff’, that’s what I would say.
“But it’s a good thing he’s like that because he pushes me and I push him, he pushes me to keep my head up and stuff and not be mad at each other. It’s a good thing to have on our team.”
And Ku Beiza knows that Mentado pushes him as much as Mentado pushes him, especially now that Ku Beiza was moved from Sam-backer to Mike-Backer this week and both are battling it out for that starting position.
“Many ways, he’s coming after me, he wants his spot back,” said Ku Beiza with a laugh and a smile. “But it’s all in good fun, it’s all fun and games. It’s usually who’s going to get it, who works harder and whoever wants it most.”
As the season started at West Salem for the jamboree, both Ku Beiza and Mentado got their first licks of varsity time, learning that this isn’t Middle School ball anymore in the case of Ku Beiza and not Junior Varsity ball as with Mentado.
Ku Beiza, who hadn’t play football in High School yet, admitted to having some jitters, but those went away as soon as he started popping those pads during the jamboree.
“Scary, guys are bigger than Middle School and the fires more different,” describe Ku Beiza on playing football at the High School level. “Like it’s more striving on brotherhood and winning and it wasn’t just playing the game. So it was just brotherhood and sticking together and go out there and win.”
The butterflies were flowing for Mentado that August 25 night at West Salem against Reynolds and Newberg in his Varsity action debut, nearly nauseating puts Mentado as he worked to get into a groove just like Ku Beiza did.
“So at the jamboree, the first game here, there’s a whole bunch of pressure,” “It was nerve-racking, I felt like puking but it was just really nervous. I mean you get butterflies, you get really nervous.
“But after that game, I felt more comfortable and just competed.”
Though Mentado learned from Sliva, Lua and Jarding on the gridiron and continued to work with the upperclassmen in 2017, Ku Beiza learned about what it takes to work hard from Jarding on the mat last winter in preparations for success.
Watching and learning from those guys around him last year, Mentado knows himself he hasn’t even gotten to that level yet, but said that he always challenging himself to one day be in that kind of company one day down the line.
“Watching them work hard, I haven’t reached that yet, so I’m pushing myself to reach that,” said Mentado. “Jarding was a amazing athlete, his work ethic was incredible. For me I haven’t reached that yet, I’m trying to push myself to reach that and out here, there’s still way more to go.”
Ku Beiza points to his inspiration to strap on those pads again in Jarding and Kevin Her all thanks to seeing their work ethic and their hard work into their craft.
“That’s all they’re about, they’re all about work ethic and work hard,” said Ku Beiza. “Usually with Jarding and Kevin Her, those two are my inspiration to come out as a Linebacker. They wanted to push me up there and get me out there.”
And as Ku Beiza makes the switch from Sam Linebacker, the strong side/Tight-End-or-Receiver-heavy side linebacker, to Mike Linebacker, the Middle Linebacker; the switch will help the sophomore see how the offense flows and see the game from a whole new angle.
“It’s amazing, from everything. On Mike, it’s a different job so was Sam,” said Ku Beiza. “So it’s different when they switched me, but overall it’ll make me a better linebacker. It will change my perspective on how I see the offense from the middle instead of the outside.”
And now, call it an equivalent of a ‘Quarterback Controversy’ or whatever you may want to call it, but the Two Young Guns know it’s just an opportunity to help McKay in some way Friday Nights, an opportunity to better themselves as friends and as competitors.
To push themselves day-in and day-out as they always find themselves asking each other, their teammates and their coaches on what to do to improve as Linebackers.
“Oh it’s always competition between me and him even in wrestling,” said Mentado. “So, to come out here and to compete against somebody and I fought hard for this position, we have to battle. I mean it’s always going to be competition, no matter what. It’s amazing how much work you put in, like there’s an outcome.”
Practice Photos By Jeremy McDonald