By David Krueger Herald Writer
In his inaugural meeting with the Meadowdale football team, first-year head coach Mike Don announced the Mavericks would be switching to a spread offense.
Junior running back Malik Braxton quickly spoke up.
“The funny part about it is coach Don’s first intro to the whole team he stated that he was going to run 50 percent and throw 50 percent every game,” Braxton said. “He didn’t really know me — it was the first time we met — and I was like, ‘Coach, you have a good running back.’ He said, ‘If (former Mariner star running back) KeiVarae Russell ever walks into my office, we’ll run 100 percent. If (Arlington star receiver) Max Gray walks into my office, we’ll throw 100 percent.’
“I said, ‘Coach, I’m Malik, so I guess we’re going to run it half the time.’”
The team laughed at the first impression Braxton made with his new coach. However, once everyone was out on the field, the junior made an impression of a different kind.
“I think what Malik brings to the table is he’s an explosive kid with good vision,” Don said. “Every play there’s an opportunity to hit it big. He’s that home-run threat. He brings that with him.”
That “home-run threat” is a vital part of the Mavericks’ offense. Braxton — who has rushed for better than 900 yards this season — was not able to play for large portions of all three games of the Mavs’ three-game losing streak to end the regular season. Braxton was nursing an injured hip and had to watch the action from the sideline.
Braxton said it was a good learning experience, but he spent the whole time wishing he could be in the game.
“Learning the different offense, we’re still learning different ways that we can perfect the run schemes and stuff. Watching from the sidelines is definitely a lot easier than watching it on film,” Braxton said. “Being there on live action is easier. It’s not a good feeling because I want to be out there, but it’s good for me to watch somebody run what I’m supposed to be running.”
Returning for Meadowdale’s quad-district playoff game against Timberline, Braxton played the first half and scored a touchdown before he injured his foot — and lost a toenail. Up 21-0 at halftime, the Mavericks struggled to score the rest of the way before edging the Blazers 28-21.
“In the Timberline game we were really rolling with him early,” Don said. “He came out in the second half and we stop scoring. We’re up 21-0 and all of a sudden we’re struggling without him in the game.”
Braxton again played just one half in the first round of the state tournament — this time because of the flu — and ran eight times for 60 yards and a touchdown in Meadowdale’s 24-0 win over Lakes. Junior Rory Spillum came in and gained 117 yards on 34 carries as the Mavericks continued to pound the ball in last Saturday’s game.
This week, Braxton says he’s healthy and ready to help Meadowdale (7-4) as it squares off against Eastside Catholic (9-2), the No. 6-ranked Class 3A team in the state and a 42-35 winner over Marysville Pilchuck in the first round of the state playoffs.
Braxton — who along with about 20 of his Mavericks’ teammates went to the EC-MP game last week “just wanting to watch a good football game” — moved up from junior varsity last season because of injuries. He served as the Mavericks’ quarterback at the end of the season.
Now at running back, Braxton said he’s in a better position to help his team. Although, in the Mavericks’ new spread offense, he said halfback passes aren’t completely off the table.
“I don’t know if I’m more happy at running back, but I definitely wanted to be a running back. I feel like that’s where my skill is going to be more handy,” Braxton said. “I just wanted to step in and go. … (Halfback passes are) never out of the playbook. We have a bunch of athletes all around us that could do that. Anybody. Rory, (wide receiver) Josiah Evans could step in and do that. We’ll see.”
Don is excited to have one more year with Braxton, who he said has put in extra time in the weight room this season.
“He’ll do some great things for us next year, like he did this year,” Don said. “I think he’ll be even better. I think he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of. I think he’ll be a lot better next year, which is scary for the teams we have to play.”
But before this season is over, Braxton said he hopes Meadowdale can shock a couple more teams in the state tournament.
“There’ve been a lot of doubters, definitely. We’re trying to prove them wrong on Saturday,” Braxton said. “… We’re not surprised. We knew we had it in us. The last three-game skid, our heads weren’t on right. We were looking over teams, you could say. We knew we had to come back and play the way that we could.
“Words can’t describe how bad we want to win. To be the first team ever out of Meadowdale to make it to the (state) semifinals, that’d be something.”