South Salem's Daschel Smith threw for 525 yards last week, ranking No. 10 all-time in the state. (Photo courtesy Ben Mendez)
South Salem's Daschel Smith threw for 525 yards last week, ranking No. 10 all-time in the state. (Photo courtesy Ben Mendez)

Until he arrived at South Salem as a freshman in 2019, Daschel Smith had never played football.

And he might not have ever played if his good friend, Tini Tinitali III, had not coaxed him to turn out for the freshman team one week before the season began. He started out at receiver, then got to try his hand at quarterback.

“I was like, 'OK, I guess I can throw the ball around,'” said Smith, a baseball player since his youth. “I threw a lot of interceptions and we lost a lot of games, but it was fun. After my freshman season, I wasn't even sure if I was going to play my sophomore year.”

Smith decided to stick with it, with stunning results. He was the JV quarterback as a sophomore, became the varsity starter as a junior and is blossoming as a senior, throwing for a state-leading 907 yards in two games for the Saxons (2-0).

“I've never seen anybody progress as fast as he has,” South Salem offensive corodinator Josh Vanlue said.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Smith opened the season by throwing for 382 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-28 win at Liberty (Wash.). He exploded last week, completing 31 of 40 passes for 525 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters to beat Sunset 42-7.

Smith will try to continue his early-season roll at 3 p.m. Saturday when the Saxons play host to Grants Pass (2-0) in the 6A Special District 1 opener for both teams.

Smith, a 3.8 student, has total command of the team's Air Raid offense, completing 75.0 percent of his passes.

“Right now he understands the scheme so well, he just executes at a really high level,” South Salem coach Scott DuFault said. “His arm has gotten stronger every year. He struggled as a freshman and sophomore throwing the deep ball, but now he's just killing it. I think before it's all said and done, somebody's going to pay for his school.”

The early season numbers have been staggering, even for Smith. The 525-yard game ranks No. 10 in state history.

“I was a little bit surprised about the yards,” Smith said. “We've been talking about it all offseason, and I kind of felt that if I did what I'm supposed to do, this is how it's going to turn out. Now that we're finally able to do it, it's nice to see it come out on paper.”

Even as a 125-pound freshman, Smith showed a knack for seeing the field at quarterback. After an offseason of studying under Vanlue and lifting weights, he returned as a sophomore more confident and carrying about 40 more pounds.

In his first JV start, Smith threw for 425 yards. Later in the season, he came off the bench in a varsity game against Sprague and completed 18 of 21 passes in one quarter.

“We kind of knew we had something special there,” Vanlue said.

As the full-time varsity starter last season, Smith completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 2,515 yards and 18 touchdowns with 15 interceptions for the Saxons, who went 6-5 and reached the second round of the 6A playoffs. He has taken it up another notch or two this season.

“No. 1, it's just confidence, and No. 2, physically I'm way stronger,” Smith said. “I can put the ball 10 yards farther down the field way easier with my arm. Everything's feeling a lot more smooth.”

Smith is spreading the ball around to his receivers. Senior Zach Wusstig, a senior transfer from 3A Jefferson, has seven catches for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Tinitali (13 catches, 249 yards) and junior Esteban Mendez (12 catches, 223 yards) each have two touchdown catches.

DuFault still marvels at how far Smith has come as a quarterback.

“I watched him as a freshman and I wasn't expecting a whole lot out of him,” DuFault said. “He made a big jump. And this year, it's like having a coach out there.

“He's seen everything now, and recognizes stuff. He changes protection, he changes routes. He's got a firm grasp of what we're doing. The other night he got to his third progression probably four or five times.”

Smith also has shown an ability to escape the pass rush and extend plays. He rushed for 337 yards and 10 touchdowns a junior and has run for two scores this season.

Considering Smith's rapid rise, his football future is intriguing.

“He's got enough arm talent to play college football,” DuFault said. “I think his ceiling is still pretty high. He's still in Year 3 or 4 in football, and one of them was the COVID year. He doesn't do the 7-on-7 stuff, but I think these numbers are waking some people up.”

Smith said he always thought he would play baseball in college, but that football appears to be his ticket now.

“I think that's the move,” Smith said. “It would be awesome if I could go somewhere like FCS or mid-major, Division I level.”

Expecting a 'barn-burner'

With a win over Grants Pass on Saturday, the Saxons would improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2015, when they finished 10-1. The Cavemen, coming off a 1-8 season, also are looking to go 3-0 under first-year coach Brad Page.

Last week, Grants Pass held Caldera to 11 total yards in a 35-0 win. Senior Jace Blanchard has thrown six touchdown passes this season for the Cavemen.

“They're playing really well,” DuFault said. “They've got a quarterback that can throw the ball down the field and a couple running backs that run really hard. And defensively, they've been pretty good. We're expecting a barn-burned. We're going to throw it around the yard, and they're going to throw it down the field.”

Other notable games in Week 3:


6A No. 4 West Linn (1-1) at 6A No. 3 Jesuit (2-0), 7 p.m.: Jesuit rushed for 413 yards in a 35-6 rout of No. 8 Lakeridge last week, getting 224 yards from senior Payton Roth. West Linn senior receiver Mark Hamper has scored six touchdowns this season, catching 10 passes for 277 yards and three scores in a 35-31 loss to No. 1 Sheldon last week. West Linn beat Jesuit 17-3 at home in last year's opener.

3A No. 9 Warrenton (2-0) at 3A No. 1 Banks (2-0)., 7 p.m.: Warrenton, coming off a 27-0 win over then-2A No. 1 Heppner, faces another top-ranked team this week in the Coastal Range League opener for both teams. Banks racked up 14 tackles for loss in beating former 4A Cowapa League rivals Astoria 28-0 and Tillamook 20-12 in its first two games.


Reynolds (2-0) at Nelson (1-0), 7 p.m.: The Mt. Hood Conference opener for two teams off to promising starts. Nelson has talented sophomore quarterback Avirey Duhrdahl, who threw for 291 yards in a 28-0 season-opening win over Aloha. Reynolds trailed Roosevelt 7-0 in the fourth quarter Friday but rallied to win 13-7, taking the lead on a blocked punt in the final minutes. Nelson defeated the Raiders 28-7 last year.

6A No. 6 Tualatin (2-0) at 5A No. 2 Wilsonville (2-0), 7 p.m.: The first-ever meeting between two of the state's top programs, despite the schools being only five miles apart. Tualatin beat 5A No. 1 Summit 19-12 in its opener before rolling past McNary 44-19 last week. Wilsonville junior Kallen Gutridge has thrown for six touchdowns and run for three scores. The Wildcats go to Summit next week.

4A No. 2 Marist Catholic (2-0) at 4A No. 1 Mazama (2-0), 7 p.m.: The 4A favorite could emerge in the game between the Spartans and Vikings, who meet in a nonleague game for the fourth time in five seasons. The last time they played, Mazama held off Marist Catholic 27-21 in the 4A Showcase final during the COVID-shortened season in 2021. The Vikings won at home 14-6 in 2018, and the Spartans returned the favor 55-21 in 2019.

Westview (1-1) at 5A No. 1 Summit (1-1), 7 p.m.: Can anyone stop Westview senior running back Jordan Fisher, who has rushed for 588 yards and six touchdowns in two games, averaging 9.3 yards per carry? Summit's defensive front, led by Spencer Elliott and Chip Allers, flexed its muscles last week as the Storm held 5A No. 7 Thurston to seven first downs in a 48-10 win.

6A No. 10 Sherwood (1-1) at 6A No. 8 Lakeridge (1-1), 7 p.m.: Two teams with high aspirations will try to rebound from losses last week. Lakeridge fell 35-6 at home to Jesuit and Sherwood lost 34-25 on the road to Clackamas. In last year's season opener at Lakeridge, the Pacers beat the Bowmen 42-21.

Lakeview (1-1, 1-1) at 3A No. 2 South Umpqua (2-0, 2-0), 7 p.m.: South Umpqua has made quick work of its first two foes, scoring 105 first-half points in dispatching Phoenix 50-6 and Douglas 61-6. The Honkers, 2A semifinalists last year who have moved up to 3A, should put up a better fight in the Special District 3 game.


1A-8 No. 1 Lost River (2-0) at 1A-8 No. 2 St. Paul (2-0), 1 p.m.: Two of the state's top eight-man teams collide it what could be a preview of the state final. St. Paul has won the last two meetings, beating the Raiders 54-46 at home in the COVID-shortened season and 36-24 on the road last season. Both teams have prolific rushing attacks.