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Joe Polamalu building Cottage Grove back into a contender, one step at a time

Here’s our look at the Cottage Grove Lions of the Class 4A Oregon West Conference.

By Mitchell Forde | Photo by Taylor Balkom 

SBLive Oregon will break down every 6A, 5A and 4A team in the state leading up to the 2022 football season. Here’s our look at the Cottage Grove Lions of the Class 4A Oregon West Conference. 



Joe Polamalu, third season (1-9)


2021 (fall): 1-8 overall, 0-4 in Sky Em

2021 (spring): 0-1 overall, 0-0 in Sky Em

2019: 0-8 overall, 0-4 in Sky Em

2018: 6-4 overall, 2-2 in Sky Em (lost in first round)


Ayden Freeman, second team OL, second team DL

Cole Johns, honorable mention OL

Parker Nelson, second team RB (transferred to Marist Catholic)


Brayden Crump, QB/DB, senior

Crump returns after starting behind center the past two seasons, but he is being pushed by sophomore Nathin Lemon. While Polamalu didn’t want to commit to Crump as the full-time starter, he did praise the senior’s leadership of the offense. “He always looks good,” Polamalu said. “He’s a great athlete, and I’m excited for him just to take the reins.”

Hadyn Petersen, WR/DB, senior

Petersen is back after leading the Lions with 26 catches for 428 yards last season. Regardless of who is throwing passes, Petersen should be the team’s top receiving option again this year. He also will start in the secondary. Polamalu said Petersen has taken on more of a leadership role, even if he’s not the most vocal player in the locker room. “Love his attitude,” Polamalu said. “He doesn’t say but one or two words, but he just goes.” 

Myles Julien, RB/LB, senior

Julien will be back at linebacker. He likely will be asked to play a larger role on offense, where he can carry the ball and line up at slot receiver, after the departure of Parker Nelson to Marist Catholic. “Probably a little undersized, but one of those stories where if he was 6-foot-4, you would hear all about him,” Polamalu said. “He plays above his ability and his size.”

Joseph Bottorff, OL/DL, junior

The Lions need to replace two all-league offensive linemen, but they return Bottorff. Look for him to start along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. “He’s a pleasure, man,” Polamalu said. “Just a kid that enjoys playing and is going to be a leader up on that line.”

Tristan Bentley, OL/DL, senior

Bentley is another returning starter up front. Polamalu said Bentley and Bottorff have done a good job of taking on leadership roles in a fairly young position group.


When Polamalu took over as head coach two years ago, the program was in rough shape. The Lions had gone winless in 2019, and Polamalu said he barely had enough players come out to field a team. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly did him no favors. 

The Lions took the field for only one game during the spring 2021 season and didn’t get to do much offseason practicing leading up to last fall. They went 1-8, with two of the losses coming by forfeit.

The good news, Polamalu said, is that numbers are back up. Fifty-seven players came out for the team this summer. The downside is that more than 40 of those players are freshmen or sophomores. Polamalu said the program is still at “Ground Zero.”

“We’ve really got some kids coming up through the program that are going to get a lot of playing time, but just they’re a year out from being fully developed physically, mentally, emotionally,” Polamalu said.

As a result, Cottage Grove’s focus this season will be less about its record and more about establishing a standard for how Polamalu wants his teams to operate. The major qualities he’s stressing are commitment and competitiveness.

“Obviously, we want success as soon as possible, but a lot of things have got to be in order,” Polamalu said. “And that’s developing a relationship with players and families and building for the future. I think we’ve got a good step in that direction.”

One of the few seniors on the roster is Crump, who started at quarterback the past two seasons. But Polamalu isn’t handing Crump the starting job this fall. That has a lot to do with Lemon, a sophomore who has looked good during preseason practices. 

Polamalu said he wants to see how Crump and Lemon play in the upcoming jamboree before deciding how reps will be divided, but he anticipates Lemon getting some game action in spot duty, at minimum. 

“They both have been in the program, they both know the expectation,” Polamalu said. “We’re keeping things pretty simple and familiar with what they’ve both done in the past, and so I just want them to play without having to worry about a lot — just having a better understanding of what we’re trying to do and keeping it as simple as possible for them.” 

Other seniors who will be featured at the skill positions are Petersen, Julien and receiver Chase Cordin. All three should start on defense, too. Bottorff and Bentley will anchor both lines of scrimmage.

Polamalu is optimistic about his defense. While the Lions lack size, he expects his squad to make up for it with effort and physicality. 

“I think we’re just going to hang our hat on, No. 1, our hustle,” Polamalu said. “Our tackling. Just working hard to get to the football.”

Polamalu believes Cottage Grove can take a step forward from last season. But at this point in the rebuilding process, his biggest focus is on laying a foundation that his young players can build on for years to come.


“I think as a program, as a whole, that they can see success in different forms. And we’ll have to go back to the drawing board, find out where we’re short, what we’re positive on, and just continue to build.” — Joe Polamalu