Charlie Hall can still remember the first time he witnessed the play-making ability of Julian Ewald.




It was the 2006 Gold Beach football camp, and the Grizzlies were participating in a live scrimmage when Ewald, then a new addition to the team after transferring only months prior, burst through the offensive line, shell-shocked the quarterback and forced a fumble.




"And we said, 'Whoa,'" recalls Hall, Ashland's head football coach. "We really saw his ability to be quick and beat a defender. It was kind of the start of things."




Since that day, Ewald has lived up to his promising start. His training regimen has made him one of the team's strongest players, and as a defensive lineman he leads the Grizzlies in tackles (12 1/2), and is tied for the lead in sacks (1 1/2) and forced fumbles (1) heading into Ashland's third game of the season, Friday at Corvallis.




Ashland (2-0) will probably need Ewald and the rest of the Grizz defense to continue to shine against the No. 9-ranked Spartans (1-1). The defending Class 5A state champs will be Ashland's stiffest test yet after the No. 8-ranked Grizzlies opened against 4A opponents Henley and Phoenix.




"Our motto this year is to finish strong, so we're not going to give up easy," Ewald said.




The 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior speaks from experience. His aggressiveness and nose for the ball make him tough to block on defense, and his quickness and power make him a load to bring down when he gets the ball on offense (he also plays fullback).




Those qualities didn't come by accident. They are the product of hard work.




Ewald hit the weight room hard in the offseason and is currently the only Grizzly in the 900 club &

that is, the combined weight of his bench press, power clean and squat meet or exceed 900 pounds. His goal is to get up to 1,000 pounds.




Ewald also helped resuscitate Ashland's once dead wrestling program last year, and claims that his training in that sport has helped him on the gridiron &

an advantage that he's touting in an effort to recruit more wrestlers for the upcoming season.




"If kids come out for wrestling it will definitely make them stronger for football, which I want them to realize," he said.




Ewald's emergence has bolstered an Ashland defense that has so far been outstanding. Fresh off Friday's shutout of Phoenix, the Grizzlies are allowing just 6.5 points and 249 yards per game, and have forced seven turnovers &

three interceptions and four fumble recoveries.




"Hard work pays off," Ewald said. "I think every week we get stronger and stronger. We make a few mistakes, but our coaches fix those mistakes right away."




But as impressive as Ashland has looked, the early success has come against lower-level, 4A teams. Now comes Corvallis, a 5A team with a winning tradition.




"We're just going to take them like any other team," Ewald said. "We're just going to go out there and work our hardest and do what we can. We're not going to look at them like they're the best ones out there."




And they probably aren't. Twenty players graduated off the Corvallis team that went all the way in 2006 &

beating Ashland 7-0 along the way &

and it has already suffered its first loss of 2007, a 36-7 thrashing at the hands of Sherwood.




Still, the game will be one of the state's marquee matchups this weekend, and Hall is expecting a hard-hitting battle that will help prepare the Grizzlies for the long road ahead.




"I think they come from a great program with great tradition and they're probably going to do basically what they did last year, which is line up in the I-formation," he said. "They're going to try to establish the running game and try to get the ball to the tight end on play-action.




"It's going to be a good test," he added. "You're going against the state champion. I think they're a little down for them, but those kids know how to win. And playing at their place, we'll have our hands full. It'll be a great test for us."




Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.