ARLINGTON — Last fall was a season of growing pains for the Arlington football team.
After graduating eight offensive starters and nine defensive starters from their 2015 Wesco 3A North championship squad, the Eagles suffered from widespread youth and inexperience last season during a 3-7 campaign.
But with that year of experience now under their belts, those struggles are seeming more like a distant memory.
Arlington is off to a 2-0 start, highlighted by this past Friday’s emphatic 54-28 non-league victory over Wesco 4A powerhouse Lake Stevens that snapped the Vikings’ 26-game regular-season winning streak.
“We’re a completely different team than last year,” Eagles senior receiver Campbell Hudson said after practice earlier this week. “(The year of) experience did a lot for us.”
Lake Stevens, despite losing numerous key players from last year’s state-quarterfinal squad, entered last week as the seventh-ranked 4A team in the state after rolling to a 49-0 season-opening win over Stanwood.
Arlington was unfazed.
“Coming into the game, we weren’t ranked and they were,” Eagles senior receiver Cooper Cummings said. “But that didn’t mean anything to us. We came into the game with confidence, we knew our jobs and we executed them.”
“We didn’t really care about what anyone said,” Hudson added, “because we knew our potential.”
With the statement victory, Arlington avenged last year’s 42-7 loss to Lake Stevens and moved from unranked to No. 9 in the 3A state poll. The Eagles open league play Friday against visiting Marysville Getchell with hopes of contending for the Wesco 3A North crown.
“I think we’re back to where we were two years ago when we won the league title,” Arlington coach Greg Dailer said. “I think we have a chance to compete for it.”
The path back to this point included the Eagles’ rough 2016 season — and the lessons they learned from it.
Arlington faced a difficult schedule last year, losing four games to eventual state qualifiers by an average margin of 36.3 points per contest. The Eagles’ other three losses came by a combined 13 points, including a one-point defeat to Oak Harbor and a four-point defeat to Snohomish in a district play-in game.
“It was tough,” Dailer said. “It was frustrating. We learned a lot. We talk a lot about learning from our mistakes around here, and we had a lot of mistakes to learn from last year. But they have (learned), and it’s really paying off.”
Led by junior quarterback Anthony Whitis, Arlington’s up-tempo spread offense has topped 400 total yards in each of its first two games. Whitis has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 562 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
“He’s incredibly athletic, but he just has a natural throwing ability,” Dailer said. “You can teach technique, but some guys are just good throwing the ball. … Anthony’s got a special arm, a great head for the game (and is) real cool under pressure.”
Whitis took over as the team’s starting quarterback for the final three games of last season. He replaced Hudson, who moved back to his natural position at receiver after playing quarterback for the Eagles out of necessity.
Hudson is now part of a talented receiving corps that features Cummings, senior Jacob Hubbard and junior Dylan Simmons. Cummings led the team in receiving last season, while Simmons flashed breakout potential last week with five catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.
“They’re talented,” Dailer said. “We’ve got speed, we’ve got size, they’ve all got great hands and they all run good routes. … Anthony has some weapons.”
Arlington’s defense also has been key this season. The Eagles held Redmond to 200 total yards of offense in a 26-13 season-opening win, and then intercepted Lake Stevens star quarterback Conor Bardue four times last week. Arlington’s trio of senior linebackers Gabriel Green, Payton Bastien and Hubbard have recorded a combined eight tackles for loss in two games.
“The defense is playing really well,” Dailer said. “Our three linebackers are probably the best combination we’ve ever had, so it’s really exciting to see them play. We’re tough to run up the middle (against) with those guys. And then our secondary is really tough.”
Players also pointed to a tighter bond among teammates this season than last year.
“We weren’t bonded as well as we are this year,” Hudson said. “We never really got the chemistry that we have now. We’re clicking already in the second game, whereas last year we didn’t start clicking until the last game of the season.”
Yet despite their early-season success, the Eagles know they need to keep things in perspective.
“We just need to know that we can’t let it get to our heads,” Whitis said. “(Lake Stevens) is a powerhouse, but they’re a non-league opponent. Regardless of if we beat them, that’s just a stepping stone in what we’re trying to get — a league title.
“I think we just need to build off this win, learn from our mistakes and just know that if we can beat them, we can beat anyone.”