Lake Stevens quarterback Jake Nelson became a household name a year ago as he led one of the most potent offenses in the school's history all the way to the semifinals in the Wesco 4A state playoffs. Nelson and the Vikings came up short of a state championship, but for all of his accomplishments last season Nelson was named the All-Area offensive player of the year.
Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said having an experienced quarterback like Nelson is definitely an advantage.
"It's like having an additional coach on your staff that can help you run the offense," he said. "If you are looking at it from a quarterback position standpoint, yeah, it definitely gives you a leg up."
Nelson has graduated, as have many of the other great quarterbacks of a season ago. Blake McPherson led an Arlington offense that started the season strong and had visions of a state playoff run. McPherson's strong arm kept the Eagles in every game they played throughout the season -- but like Nelson, McPherson has graduated.
The same is true of Jackson's Sam Brown, Lynnwood's Blake Lord, Snohomish's Mitchell Stewart, Kamiak's Anthony Berg and Glacier Peak's David Linney. The graduation of so many talented quarterbacks after the 2011 season brings up the question, who is going to be under center in 2012?
The answer to that question has the potential to shift the balance of power in both the Wesco 3A and 4A this season. While many schools will be trying to break in a new quarterback as the season goes along, a few schools are lucky enough to have a familiar face calling the plays as the high school football season kicks off tonight.
Marysville Pilchuck, which dropped from 4A to 3A, returns junior Jake Luton. Luton showed moments of what he is capable of in 2011, but after gaining another year of experience should surpass that performance in 2012. For Tomahawks coach Brandon Carson, having a second-year quarterback is a new experience.
"This is the first year ever that I've ever had a second-year starting quarterback," Carson said. "It's really nice because, going into the offseason there's always the question of, 'Who's going to be our quarterback?' We know who our guy is going to be and we expect him to take the next step in his development."
The Tomahawks have been notoriously a running team in the past, but with the 6-foot-4 Luton running the show, that might change this season.
"He's a pretty talented kid," Carson said. "I don't know if it's a time factor or an anxiety factor. He's been through 10 games and when you throw a new guy out there sometimes when you're in the heat of the battle you don't know how he's going to react because you can't replicate that stuff in practice. So we know what to expect from him."
Luton's return is one of the reasons the Tomahawks are one of the favorites in the 3A north this season. The Tomahawks can expect stiff competition from Oak Harbor, which after a successful 2011 season, also returns its quarterback Ian Kolste.
"It's huge to have your quarterback back," Oak Harbor coach Jay Turner said. "He understands the offense better than most of us do. Honestly, he could go out and call the game. He knows all the wrinkles. This is the earliest we've ever had the entire offense installed and a lot of that is dependent on having a returning veteran quarterback.
"We're able to start adding things earlier than ever before because we have a kid who started so many games for us."
Having experience playing on Friday night's has helped to bolster Kolste's confidence.
"It's huge because I can take the composure and instill it into the rest of my teammates, so when I come out and they're jittery and confused and I can be calm and help the rest of my teammates stay the same way," Kolste said.
In the North 4A, the Monroe Bearcats have the luxury of returning not one, but two quarterbacks who saw significant action in 2011. Mitchell Price started last season at quarterback for Monroe and after going down with a concussion, Hunter Bingham finished the season. Both are back.
"It's a real nice problem to have more than one quarterback you can rely on," Monroe coach Dick Abrams said.
Abrams said Price and Bingham will split time at quarterback at least through the first three nonconference games.
"I feel really good about both of them," Abrams said. "Both have good leadership skills. We feel like both could lead us on Fridays."
And then there are schools like Jackson and Kamiak that have new starting quarterbacks, but that doesn't that the new players are unfamiliar with the system. Conner Plaisance takes over for the Timberwolves after having spent last season as Brown's backup and Brett Ludeman will lead the Knights after being the backup to Berg and having started several early-season games while Berg was injured.
Jackson coach Joel Vincent said Plaisance's familiarity with the system means the Timberwolves don't have to start from scratch.
"He's up to the task and I think he's excited about the opportunity," Vincent said. "We don't have to start at square one. I think it gives you a better place to start."
And with experience to go along with knowing the system, Ludeman seems poised to have a breakout season for the Knights.
"I think he's an outstanding quarterback," Kamiak coach Dan Mack said. "He's got a lot of intangibles. He's got a real good football IQ and he's a fine athlete. We're expecting big things out of him."
Mack's confidence in Ludeman makes it likely that the Knights will have a balanced offensive attack.
"Brett's been in our system for three years and he knows it well," Mack said. "We definitely have confidence in his throwing ability."
Then, of course, there are the teams that have to replace their star quarterbacks like the Vikings and the Eagles.
The Vikings and Eagles each had two quarterbacks sharing reps in the preseason practices. Junior Gavin O'Neal and freshman Jacob Eason split time for the Vikings, and junior Austin Wells and senior A.J. Passalacqua for the Eagles.
Like Tri, Eagles coach Greg Dailer said losing a quarterback the caliber of McPherson means losing a player who can act as another coach.
"Blake was pretty self-sufficient," Dailer said. ""He would see stuff while he was playing and talk to me about it."
Perhaps tonight a new class of Nelsons and McPhersons will make their debuts.
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.
Team: 2012 QB (2011 QB)
Lake Stevens: Gavin O'Neal (Jake Nelson)
Monroe: Mitchell Price, Hunter Bingham (Price, Bingham)
Arlington: Austin Wells, A.J. Passalacqua (Blake McPherson)
Mount Vernon: Bennett Gibson (Gibson)
Snohomish: Kyle Gionet (Mitchell Stewart)
Cascade: Ryan Lucas (Tay'lor Eubanks)
Edmonds-Woodway: Davis Giles (Giles)
Jackson: Conor Plaisance (Sam Brown)
Kamiak: Brett Ludeman (Anthony Berg)
Lynnwood: Morgan Skelton (Blake Lord)
Mariner: Dan Nadat (Gabe Dye)
Everett: Nolan Rogge (Riley Ayers)
Marysville Getchell: Dylan Diedrich (Diedrich)
Marysville Pilchuck: Jake Luton (Luton)
Oak Harbor: Ian Kolste (Kolste)
Stanwood: Drew Wright (Wright, Kyle Strachan)
Meadowdale: Brian Marty (Marty)
Glacier Peak: Chris Becerra (David Linney)
Mountlake Terrace: Beau Kennedy (Kennedy)
Shorecrest: Nik Hendriks, Tyson Maine (Ted Hammond)
Shorewood: Aaron Miller (Miller)
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