The Vikings were led by a group of seniors that had been playing together since they were kids and it showed on the field. Quarterback Jake Nelson was The Herald's All-Area football player of the year. Christian Gasca and Brady Pahuoka were two of the most dangerous receivers in Wesco. Running back Shae Giddens gave the Vikings much-needed offensive balance. Then there was Korey Young, who came back from a devastating knee injury the year before to be one of the fiercest linebackers in the league.
Nelson, Gasca, Pahukoa, Giddens and Young are gone. So are other key players that helped the Vikings to the state semifinals. That gives the 2012 version of the Vikings a much different look as they try to carry over 2011's success.
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"We're getting better," Vikings coach Tom Tri said. "We're pretty young for the most part.
Tri doesn't seem concerned about replacing the plethora of talent from a year ago. Instead, he looks at the situation logically.
"We get the next guys and we try to get them ready to go," he said.
Soon enough the Vikings will find out just how ready they are, opening the season Aug. 31 on the road against Glacier Peak. It'll be the first of three nonconference games for Lake Stevens before opening up its Wesco North 4A schedule.
Despite several new players at key positions, the Vikings are still aiming high.
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"Our expectations are to compete for a Wesco North 4A championship with the opportunity to try and host a playoff game," Tri said.
And it isn't just the roster that looks different for the Vikings. The coaching staff has gone through changes, too. Defensive coordinator Joe Cronin took the head coaching job at Cascade High School and took three of the other assistant coaches with him, leaving Tri to replace four spots on his staff.
Tri said the transition has gone well.
"We've had to meet a lot more with the staff (during the offseason) to get them used to the terminology we use on both sides of the ball," Tri said.
Last season's experienced team didn't have to spend much time on the basics in preseason practices. That's not the chase this year with just two returning starters on offense and three on defense.
"The practices have been a lot more of the fundamental element," Tri said. "We're young at the skill positions, but we have a fair amount of experience on the offensive and defensive line."
Tri expects offensive/defensive lineman Brandon Johnson and tight end/linebacker Andrew Elgaen to play a key roles in the Vikings' campaign. Elgaen is likely to have a quarterback package set up for him as well, but Tri said he really wants to be able to utilize his Elgaen's ability to run and catch the football.
After having such a high level of success last season, some might think the expectations would be unusually high for Tri and his team. He doesn't see it that way.
"I don't feel any added pressure because I think everyone is smart enough to realize we don't have the same team as last year," he said. "The pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself to make sure that we have a team that's ready to play on Friday nights."
And despite losing several of the key players that made the Vikings aerial attack so potent, Tri said don't expect his team to turn into a running football team.
"Teams are more committed to throwing the ball now more than they ever have," he said. "I think you have to have a balanced attack to play at the state level. With that said, Bellevue is obviously the exception. They have been a run happy team for years."
It paid off once again in 2011 for Class 3A Bellevue as it took home a state championship, something Tri and the 4A Vikings are still chasing.
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wesco North 4A: Mount Vernon returns | Lake Stevens rebuilds | Team-by-team capsules
Wesco South 4A: Lynnwood's big talent | Cascade's new approach | Team-by-team capsules
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