Reconvening At Willamette U

By Jeremy McDonald

SALEM, Ore.–  The City of Stayton will be well-represented at Willamette University with their Football program once (and hopefully when) the NCAA Division-III and the Northwest Conference (NWC) kicks off this season.

“It’s awesome,” said Tony Schoenborn.  “I really enjoyed my time at Stayton High School playing with Jerry (Daniels) and although I never got to play with Spencer (Gaul), I’ve grown up around him. Our moms were frequently doing things together in church groups or something behind the scenes for school or sports stuff.

“(Gaul) a super hard worker. He’s always staying after practices, going out to the field when no one is there, working hard in the weight room, talking with coaches about what he can do better. He’s really grown out of his high school physique and looks like a college receiver.”

Gaul was a Regis-product initially, was a part of the 2016 2A State Championship Winning Team and was a Second-Team All-Conference player in 2018 in his lone season with the Eagles.  Gaul’s (a 2019 Eagle-grad) dad is a Bearcat alum. 

Gaul (3) running to meet Logan Classen (11, with ball) in the end-zone after a score against North Marion in 2018 (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

Daniels, who graduated the same year as Schoenborn in 2018, transferred up to WU from the College of the Siskiyous as a Running Back.  The former bruising back for Stayton collected Player of the Year honors in the conference played in four games with the Eagles of California in 2019, rushing 16 times for 44 yards with a kick-return for seven yards playing in the Golden State.

The ride back to Oregon, Salem even, has been a bumpy road for sure Daniels described.  But with his faith in God and hard work, here he is with a better view of the game.

“At the Juco I attended for two years, experience changed my view of football and how it needs to be played. Talent from all over the world playing together to earn a scholarship, people from Florida, Las Vegas Nevada, St Louis Missouri, and many not places is something fantastic,” Daniels said.  “It made me nervous playing college football at 17 years old which somewhat effected the way played. I used to think college athletes were ginormous dudes who were freak athletes but I found out the I was bigger than most players I meet or go up against and I still am the biggest.”

Mix in being with a familiar face with Schoenborn has made the big task of going from a Junior College to a four-year a lot smoother for Daniels to start off this next chapter of his journey.  The support from a friend has helped ease the nerves in this opportunity as Daniels adjust.

Daniels taking a hand-off from Aiden Hill during the first practice of his Senior Year (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

“Being able to get back on the field and look over and see my high school friend Tony Schoenborn playing with me, checking on me and believing in me every day is something I know God wanted me to have on this journey,” said Daniels.  “I don’t know what is gonna happen next but I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given and I hope to leave Willamette with my goals achieved.”

“When his 2-year stint in Weed, CA came to an end he came back to Stayton and we were hanging out one day just talking about our futures and Jerry still wasn’t too sure about where he wanted to play. We started fantasizing about being team mates again and just sharing our competitive goals with each other,” adds Schoenborn.  “He started really asking me about Willamette and was interested in his chances there. I told him to reach out to the coaches and he did exactly that. It was pretty cool; he actually drove to the campus and left a note on the office door of the coaching offices and they got ahold of him that day. I was ecstatic when he was admitted to the school and these day dreams about being team mates again had become a reality.”

Schoenborn himself, now a Junior Economics-Major with Willamette, played in six games for the Bearcats in 2019.  The Stayton-grad recorded five tackles and contributed another three assisted tackles playing on the defensive line, appearing in seven games in his two seasons for the D-3 program.

And though this moment, have three kids from a small town of under 7,700 people 20-minutes or so to the East, there’s still that question of making this a reality.

Schoenborn (left) and Isaiah Sunghera (right) standing and listening to their coaches after a practice in 2017 (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

But even though the Pandemic has thrown plans for everyone off their footing, it has made it possible to take a step back and appreciate what they have as student-athletes.

“I definitely appreciate the game more now that I’m restricted from being able to practice, lift, or play. That’s usually how it goes too, no one realizes how much they’re going to miss something until it’s gone,” said Schoenborn.  “I feel for the youth teams, high schools, and colleges that can’t even gather at this point. My heart goes out to them and I hope that their seasons are still possible.

“The support that comes with being on a team like football is so special and I don’t think I could cope like I have been with the restriction that come with COVID if it wasn’t for my team and coaches. It’s because of that support that I want to make sure I’m giving my all for them when we get the opportunity to put pads on.”

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