Someone plugged in the popcorn maker, and the stadium went black.
It was hardly a dark age for Lake Stevens Viking football at the home playoff game four years ago – more of a dark night, and only for 45 minutes or so…but since the night the lights went out on the 4A District Playoffs, Head Coach Tom Tri has led his program through a series of changes and modernizations that will culminate in the grand reopening of a redesigned Lake Stevens Stadium September 17.
As Tri exits the locker room on the home opener, he’ll be accompanied by his three captains (all three of whom are expected to draw major college interest), and returning starters at nearly every major position on both sides of the ball. The coach and the players will walk onto a state of the art FieldTurf playing surface, and turn and face the new stadium facility and the standing room only crowd. The facility will feature a state-of-the-art press box, seating for 3,500, on premises locker rooms and training facilities. The lights will be bright, but armed with a ton of returning talent, an exciting quick strike no huddle passing attack and a revamped, retuned old school Lake Stevens hit-em-in-the-mouth defense, Tri and the Vikings will look to reap the reward of hosting a playoff game for the first time since that dark night four years prior.
Passing the Test
“We are going to really chuck it around this year. I expect us to throw for 200 yards a game. Will we always throw for 200? No. Sometimes we will pass for 300 yards,” Tri laughed in after the morning practice last Thursday.
Tri is visibly excited about firing up year three of his no huddle spread attack and opening up the throttle. When asked about the fits-and-starts in last year’s offense that led to the rotation of three different starting quarterbacks and an increased reliance on the run game, Tri has the look of a slugger shrugging off a foul ball and digging back into the box, looking for his pitch to hit.
“We made a change at quarterback, we lost three starting senior receivers, and the weather in the last four games was the worst I’ve ever seen. Couple that with the fact that we had an all league running back (Brennan Frost), and it’s easy – we’re going to run the ball. And we did. We will again this year – we will be balanced, we might throw for 200 and then run for 150 – but we are going to get back to our passing roots.”
Embarassment of Riches
Tri has an embarrassment of riches to sort through when game planning his offensive attack: two returning starting quarterbacks with 4A experience in senior Bryson Daggett and junior Jake Nelson, four returning starters at wideout including senior Brandon Preslar, who will likely shatter all relevant Viking career receiving records, a breakout performer at running back in senior Duke Dolphin (who Tri proclaimed the team’s best player in August of last year just days before Dolphin was lost to a season-ending knee injury) and four players with starting experience along an athletic offensive line – including a hulking Michael Oher-like presence anchoring the Blind Side in senior left tackle Gunnar Eklund, a 6’6” 285-pound freakishly-nimble big man who is quickly drawing lavish praise from college coaches up and down the West Coast and interior states.
On the other side of the ball, Defensive Coordinator Joe Cronin returns three starting linebackers and four secondary players in his 3-3-5 base defense that will emphasize speed, versatility and physicality. Junior Korey Young quarterbacks the defense from the middle linebacker position and will fight for the team lead in tackles and bone crushing, teeth-rattling hits with fellow ‘backlers seniors Duke Dolphin and Brandon Belcher - the team’s leading tackler in 2009. Once again the captains will provide structure for success – Eklund has dominated opposing lines from the left defensive end position, Dolphin will roam the middle, and Brandon Preslar is back at the free safety position that he showed flashes of brilliance at as a sophomore. Tri predicts that Preslar’s “unbelievable” closing speed will lead to a bevy of highlight hits. The staff also touts the flexibility of the formation that allows for the linebackers to serve as safeties against pass-happy attacks (Arlington) or as extra linemen and run supporters against ground-heavy squads (Snohomish).
The Vikes will have the deck stacked against them to start the season: in to a schedule that features three out of the first four games away from home, the Purple and Gold could be down as many as five starters due to elligiblity issues for early games. However, the pendulum will swing back in the latter half of the season, as the Vikes will finish with three of four conference games at home, putting Lake in a good position to fight for the top spot in Wesco North and one of the five District playoff berths out of the eleven-team Wesco 4A division.
In an exciting schedule change, Wesco athletic directors have added a conference championship game and a seeded battle between North and South for the five playoff spots. The regular season winners of the south and the north advance to districts and will face off for the unified Wesco title, the second place teams will face each other as well – both guaranteed a berth at District, and in what could be the most exciting game of the lot, the respective third place teams will face off with one playoff berth available for the winner…and a trip home for the loser.
For more information including a full schedule, video highlights, photography, game stories and analysis log on to Purple and Gold Pigskin at lakesports.blogspot.com
throughout the season – or simply visit lakestevensjournal.com and follow the link from the Sports page.