At the close of this football season, Siuslaw High School honored three seniors who have been with the program for their entire high school careers. Elijah Blankenship, Skyler Loomis and Christian Newlan came into a broken football program, facing coach turnover their first two years playing.
The arrival of head coach Sam Johnson brought stability and tradition back, and with it a renewed commitment from Blankenship, Loomis and Newlan.
“When I first got the Siuslaw football job,” explained Johnson, “I don’t think I appreciated just how special this group of seniors were going to be. All three of these young men were born leaders. They bought into — and trusted — me as a coach, and they bought into and trusted their brothers on this team.
“It has changed the culture here completely. They never made excuses and always focused on making those around them succeed.”
Loomis, who was honored as First Team Linebacker and Honorable Mention Runningback by the 3A Special District #2 North Conference, asserts that “Siuslaw football is a group of hard-working young men who come together to achieve a common goal, not only in football but in life as well.”
For Loomis, the choice to continue to play football after the first two tough years was based largely on his faith in his teammates.
“Even after having terrible seasons both freshman and sophomore year,” said Loomis, “we knew that we had a really talented and hard-working group of guys that would make it all worth it in the end.”
Loomis’s football career in particular is one that showed incredible grit.
Said Johnson, “Skyler Loomis is the single-toughest kid I have ever coached. From a devastating knee injury last year in our first practice in full pads, to becoming the ultimate wrecking ball in our backfield this year, he has displayed how tough he is time and time again this year.”
With the uncertainty of even being able to play football this season, Loomis’s comeback after losing his junior year was a true testament to what hard work and resilience can bring, as well as a true tale of victory.
“He will go on to be an incredibly successful man because no adversity will ever stop him from accomplishing what he needs to do,” said Johnson.
The program has been quite meaningful for Blankenship as well, who was named First Team Quarterback and Honorable Mention Defensive Back. Blankenship explained, “Siuslaw football is more than just football — it is 91 years of a brotherhood that started back in 1929. From a football standpoint, Siuslaw football is a hard-nosed team that will run it down your throat play after play.”
Blankenship, whose prowess on the field as a quarterback was literally unmatched this season, described one of the aspects of the Vikings football program that makes it unique to others.
“Siuslaw football teams are closer than most other teams because we have guys that have grown up together since kindergarten,” said Blankenship. “Being isolated in a small town on the coast, we don’t have many kids transferring in, and we can’t just transfer to a different school when things get tough. We learn to stick together and make it work.”
Blankenship’s commitment to the team was unquestionable in his eyes. “I have many reasons why I chose to keep playing football after my sophomore year,” said Blankenship. “For starters, my love for the game of football is too big to just walk away from after two bad seasons.”
With his faith unshaken, he would not be stopped. But it was another reason that made the promise of the next two years even sweeter.
“Ever since I was young, my class (Class of 2021) and the Class of 2022 have always played really well together, and we knew we had the potential to be a good team,” explained Blankenship. “Late spring of my sophomore year, we found out Sam (Johnson) had been hired as our new coach, and that brought hope. I’ve known him since I was a little kid, and I knew what a great guy he was; very positive, energetic and encouraging.”
Blankenship also remembered Sam’s older brother, John, who coached his eighth-grade team.
“It was a great experience,” said Blankenship. “The Johnsons have a long history of football knowledge and success. Most importantly, Sam played Siuslaw football and we knew he could get it back to what it was — and should be.”
The tradition of Vikings football reaches far into the past, and the coaches who kept it going were the heart of the program. Len Lutero spent 29 years at the helm of the Vikings’ football ship, coaching players that including his predecessor, Tim Dodson, who coached for 20 years after Lutero retired — and mentoring Sam Johnson along the way.
It is no surprise that Johnson coming on to coach brought hope and inspiration to the student athletes he would have under his wing. It certainly served to carry Blankenship through his final two years on the team.
“I am so thankful to be a part of Siuslaw football, and for coach Johnson turning the program around,” said Blankenship. “Although the past four years have had a lot of adversity with two tough seasons and COVID, I would not trade these last four years for anything. Not only have they helped me grown as a man, my team and I grew really close as brothers.”
Johnson recognized how special his time with Blankenship was as well.
“For me, the highest praise I could ever give someone is that they remind me of my dad and brother John in how they represent themselves in every facet of life,” explained Johnson. “Elijah Blankenship does just that. Elijah will go down in my book as the most impactful player in the history of Siuslaw football.”
Siuslaw’s final senior completing his fourth season with the Vikings is Newlan, who earned the honor of Second Team Defensive Line.
According to Newlan, “Siuslaw football means more than most things in life because it’s a family — it’s a brotherhood — and it gave me a sense of purpose.”
Newlan’s commitment to the team also came from a place of faith and trust in the program.
“I chose to stick it out because I had faith that something would change,” said Newlan, “and that change happened junior year when our coach saw our potential and pushed us to be our best.”
Newlan is another player who identifies with growing from a boy to a young man as a result of his time playing Vikings football.
“Being in this program, I learned how to face adversity, I learned how to be a better person, and I learned how to be a leader,” said Newlan. “The most important thing that came out of this program is the family members we gained. All of those guys that chose to stick with the program mean a lot to me; I’ll always remember them and I will always remember our coaches that were there with us along the way.”
The coaches will certainly remember Newlan as well. According to Johnson, “Christian Newlan is a kid who gave me everything he had from day one. He was all in and would do whatever it took to make sure our line was prepared to go to battle every Friday night.”
Another quality Newlan brought to the team was camaraderie and spirit. As Johnson said, “He loved those around him and celebrated the successes of others on and off the field. He displayed every practice and game how much he cares for those around him. To me that is the greatest quality of a young man: how well he can celebrate the success of those around him, because it teaches him how to love those around him.”
Loomis, Blankenship and Newlan have given their all to the program over the years, and Johnson made sure to recognize all that these three seniors have done for the Vikings these past four years and for the future.
“The three seniors I have that have stuck around from before I was the coach will go down as the most influential players to have ever played for this program since 1929,” said Johnson. “They went from a losing mentality to revitalizing Siuslaw football. We haven’t been rewarded this year on the field how we hoped, but that doesn’t diminish what those three have done for the culture of this program and school.”