Orville Hector | Daily TidingsMax Gordon warms up during Ashland High's football practice Tuesday at the AHS practice field. Gordon leads the Grizzlies in receptions and interceptions and is second in receiving yards.

It doesn't matter what sport Max Gordon is playing &

baseball, football, badminton &

if there's a play to be made, he won't hesitate to sacrifice his body in order to make it, even if that means a nasty floor burn. Just ask his P.E. teacher, Charlie Hall.

But one of Ashland High's best all around athletes decided not to play football last fall in order to concentrate on his first love: baseball. The decision paid off last spring when Gordon helped Ashland advance to the state semifinals during the high school season and to regionals during the American Legion season.

Gordon's original plan called for heavy dose of baseball this fall in preparation for what he hopes will be an even better senior campaign. But, when the time came to make that decision final, Gordon, called "Gordo" by coaches and teammates, had a change of heart.

"I just couldn't stand watching, so I had to come out again," he said.

Now, Gordon couldn't be happier with his choice. The same could be said of the undefeated Grizzlies (4-0), now ranked No. 5 in the state, who have benefited greatly both on offense and defense. Gordon leads the Grizzlies in receptions (13), is second in receiving yards (163) and has a team-high two interceptions, including one last week that he returned 55 yards for a touchdown.

Gordon and company will try to make it five straight wins to start the season Friday night, when Marshfield (2-2) pays a visit to Walter A. Phillips Field. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

While Gordon's game-breaking speed makes him a dangerous slot receiver, he also has great vision in the open field and solid hands. But Hall, Ashland's third-year head coach, says perhaps Gordon's most important attribute is his competitive fire and willingness to go all out on every play.

Against Phoenix, Gordon, Ashland's holder on point-after attempts, had to bail out after a bad snap and ended up bursting around the Pirates' entire defense for an unconventional two-point conversion. In an earlier game against Henley, Gordon bolted under a Matt Dierks' bomb that looked well overthrown and ended up making a fully-extended, fingertip snag. In last week's win over Roosevelt, Gordon took a handoff around the right end and leaped over a fallen blocker and squarely into the shoulder pads of two burly defenders. Rocked to the turf, Gordon popped right back up.

Not bad for a 5-foot-7, 165-pound guy previously best known for his quick bat and defensive versatility on the baseball diamond.

"That's how I've always played, ever since I was little," Gordon said of his all-out style. "I actually kind of like being smaller because it's kind of like being the underdog. You're smaller and then they think, 'I'm going to rock this kid's world,' and then they're like, 'Wow, where did that come from.'"

Which is exactly what Hall expected.

"I'm not surprised at how well he's playing because I've coached him in baseball, I've seen him around school &

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166; and he's just such a competitive person," Hall said. "He has that competitive spirit that no matter what he plays he's going to give his best effort and he's going to be successful."

It was that kind of effort that made Gordon's breakout season possible. In the spring, after he decided to play again, Gordon had only a few months to learn the offense and defense. He did, but not without some help. Fellow seniors Dierks and Josh Hogeland worked with Gordon &

Hogeland, a receiver, helped him learn the routes, while Dierks was available to play catch.

That extra practice time paid off immediately. In Ashland's season-opening win over Henley, Gordon hauled in the aforementioned diving catch plus an interception. The following week at Phoenix, Gordon had four more catches for 54 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown grab, and a fumble recovery.

"I'm actually really surprised because I kind of figured that I'd be more of a defensive-oriented player, and I didn't think I'd be too in tune with the offense," Gordon said of his fast start.

Now, Gordon and the Grizzlies will try to continue their fast start against a Marshfield team that has nowhere to go but up after last week's 34-2 loss to Grants Pass, the No. 7-ranked 6A team.

Despite that lopsided margin, Hall expects the Pirates to provide the Grizzlies with a good final tune-up as Ashland braces for next week's Southern Sky Conference opener against Crater.

Marshfield is led by legendary coach Kent Wigle, who picked up his 300th win two weeks ago. The Pirates were ranked No. 9 in the first Class 5A poll, but have dropped since losing to GP and Marist. They've also beat Klamath Union 33-15 and North Bend 26-12.

Marshfield returned eight starters from a team that qualified for the playoffs last year. It's offense is spearheaded by senior quarterback Brogan Oswald, an athletic signal caller who can burn opposing defenses with both his arm and his legs.

"(Oswald's) just a very crafty, very athletic quarterback, like a lot of Marshfield quarterbacks have been over the years," Hall said. "If the protection breaks down, the receivers are covered and he takes off and runs, he gets a lot of big plays that way, so we've got to do a really good job of containing him."

The Pirates dominated the fourth quarter en route to a 33-7 victory over the Grizzlies last season. This time, Ashland is looking to gain a big win and keep its momentum high heading into the Crater game.

"We're in a good spot for Crater, but I really think this Marshfield game is going to make us or break us," Gordon said, "because it's a really tough game and they're not going to give this one away. Against Corvallis, we messed around a little bit and we still kind of pulled away, but Marshfield's going to be tougher."

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