What's new: The playmakers
The Cougars were one of the most entertaining teams to watch a year ago. Playing a wide-open spread-option attack, the Cougars had a senior-heavy roster of athletic playmakers that were creative within the offense and made a number of highlight-reel plays.
This year those guys — Justin Peterson, Donovan Evan, Kolby Schueller, Brandon Stott — have graduated. There's two ways to look at a situation like that: Are you rebuilding or reloading? Lakewood coach Dan Teeter is confident the Cougars are reloading.
"We've got kids who have been waiting their opportunity for a year or two and have worked their tails off," Teeter said.
Many of the players who will have the ball in their hands this year for Lakewood didn't a year ago. New quarterback Blake Watts and running back Palmer Gregory played almost entirely on the defensive side of the ball a year ago. Wide receivers Jacob VanWinkle and Brett Bustad were behind Peterson and Stott.
But Teeter doesn't envision much change to the offense.
"It's going to be a different style in how it looks, but we're still going to throw the ball around quite a bit," Teeter said. "It probably won't be as polished as it's been in year's past. The running game is going to be the strong point starting out and we'll see how the passing game comes along."
Returning all-conference players
First team--Dylan Donohue, OL; Eric Murray, LB; Randy Anaya, K; Second team--Jeff Harrison, OL
Player to watch: Dylan Donohue, OL/DL
During a recent practice, one of Lakewood's coaches, exasperated at one of the younger players, had had enough.
"Donohue: Get over here and show this guy how to get down in a stance," the coach barked.
Donohue jogged over with the younger player and provided a quick clinic in how to get down in a four-point stance. Donohue's expertise and leadership is one of the things that Lakewood is counting on this year.
"His attitude is phenomenal," Teeter said. "He was out there complimenting players and picking them up and being a real leader.
"He's always been somebody who's not afraid to share what he's thinking and get guys going. As he matures he's gotten better at learning the right thing to say to guys and how to pick guys up. I'm really proud of him."
Donohue stands 6-1 and weighs in at 270 pounds and was a powerful force along both sides of the line for Lakewood a year ago. The Cougars are counting on him to do the same this year, whether it's protecting first-year QB Watts or opening up holes in the running game.
One thing that has helped Donohue is his recent surgery for a deviated septum. Instead of struggling to breathe, the Lakewood senior has been re-energized since the surgery and his stamina has increased.
"He was really struggling with that when we went to camp," Teeter said of Donohue. "He is so far above where he was because of his ability to breathe now."
The Cougars senior, along with fellow senior center Jeff Harrison, will be helping mold three first-year starters in the other three spots along the offensive line, including Alec Burbee and Brady Vandensteenhoven. But Donohue, who was first-team all-conference as a junior, has a lofty goal not only for himself but his line-mates.
"We want all five of our linemen to be first-team all-conference," Donohue said.
That may depend not only on how good of a player Donohue can be but how good of a coach he can be.
Fresh face: Blake Watts, QB
You don't replace Justin Peterson. Just ask Teeter.
But maybe three players can help fill the gap. One of those players is Watts, who will be working behind center after Peterson and Schueller, who split time at QB last year, both graduated.
Teeter said that Watts is similar to Peterson in many aspects. "He's a very good athlete," Teeter said. "He's close to as fast as Justin but not as elusive. He's more powerful."
Though he only took a handful of snaps last year — the then-sophomore played primarily outside linebacker for Lakewood last year — Watts said he learned a lot about how to play quarterback
"That's all I did last year is learn from Teeter and stay after practice and work with Justin and Kolby," Watts said. "The offense has come naturally for me this year. I've known everything from last year."
Teeter said that Watts really won the position in the offseason, when he earned more than 200 commitment points, third most in Cougar football history.
For the offense as a whole, VanWinkle, who will be one of Watts' biggest targets this year, said that the camps the team went to this year served a different role for the team than in years' past.
"In the past we've gone into those camps really excited to win because we were always clicking," VanWinkle said. "But even more important than winning this year was getting better chemistry between Blake the receivers. I think that was more important to us because we needed it."
Like much of the Cascade Conference this year, the Lakewood Cougars are a big unknown. Gone are the stars but what still remains is the system. It's a system that Teeter has been building in Lakewood since he got there.
"From their freshman year up they're learning our schemes so that when they get up there and playing on Friday nights we don't have to make it too vanilla," Teeter said, referring specifically to the offense. "Now we have to do a good job of calling the game to give them confidence and let them have success. And once they get some confidence then moving to some more elaborate things."
If the young Cougars can have success early watch out.
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