Prep football kicks off today with first practice

Few sports change as much from year to year as high school football.

Out are many of last year’s stars — Justin Peterson, Sean Elledge and Desmond Young to name a few — and in are a new batch of ready-for-Friday-Night-Lights stars. Throw in coaching changes, new schemes and new leagues and there’s are plenty of questions heading into the first day of football practice every August.

Today is no different. As prep football camps open around the state of Washington today, there are plenty of questions that need answering. We’ve picked five that we think are the most interesting.

1. How much will the Meadowdale Mavericks miss Mark Stewart?

Stewart spent 13 seasons as the head coach at Meadowdale, compiling an 87-49 record before accepting the head-coaching job at Garfield High School in the offseason.

Stewart turned the Mavericks into consistent state contenders, making the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons. Before falling in the quad-district playoffs last year, Meadowdale had been to the state playoffs every year since 2006.

For a list of the training camps Herald writers will be reporting from on Wednesday, click here.

Replacing Stewart is Mike Don, the former head coach at Lynnwood. Meadowdale athletic director Chris Murphy said he expects the Mavs to remain the Wesco powerhouse they were under Stewart.

If the Mavericks continue to win, they will at least look different doing it. Don intends to run a more wide-open offense than Stewart.

“We’re not a traditional spread offense, but we run a lot of multiple-receiver sets and we’ll definitely spread it out,” Don told The Herald soon after he was hired. “I think the kids are excited to do something different.”

The quest to see whether or not that excitement leads to on-field success starts today.

— Aaron Lommers, Herald Writer

2. Will Snohomish fans recognize their team?

The name on the jersey may be the same, but there is no denying the Panthers underwent a multitude of changes in the offseason, starting with the man calling the plays.

After 18 years as the Panthers head coach, Mark Perry resigned following the 2012 season. He finished with a career record of 105-77. Snohomish had plenty of success under Perry, but struggled the past two seasons with a record of 6-14, including 2-8 in 2012.

Leading the new Panther regime is Kai Smalley, who coached last season at Park City High School in Utah. Smalley heard about the Snohomish job from a good friend — Glacier Peak head coach Rory Rosenbach. The two buddies are now crosstown rivals.

Rivalry aside, the product the two teams put on the field might look similar. Smalley was on Rosenbach’s staff at Marist High School in Oregon before Rosenbach moved to Glacier Peak — and like Rosenbach, Smalley runs the spread offense.

“I think that they were very excited from the get-go with it,” Smalley told The Herald in an interview earlier this summer. “They’ve been playing against the spread teams for years now and having seen what they’re doing at Glacier Peak and other teams — even Lake Stevens runs a similar style offense — kids like to be a part of that fast-paced offense where you put the pedal to the metal right away.”

— Aaron Lommers, Herald Writer

3. Who’ll win the Wesco 4A South?

The Wesco 4A South is arguably the area’s most competitive league. Sure, Jackson has won three of the past four titles, but the race for the crown nearly always comes down to the last week of the regular season.

This year, expect it to be even tighter than usual.

In the recent past, it’s been Jackson and Edmonds-Woodway duking it out at the top of standings. This year, they should get some company. Mariner, Kamiak and Cascade, which broke a 24-game losing streak last season en route to a 5-5 record, all boast experienced rosters. Even Lynnwood, which struggled in its move up to 4A last season, fields a team with a number of returning All-Wesco players, including highly regarded lineman Isaiah Holmes.

It’s fair to call Jackson the favorite. The defending champion Timberwolves return a number of skilled players, including first-team All-Area wide receiver Trey Robinson and All-Wesco receivers Alek Baumgartner and Keynan Foster. The Timberwolves also bring back the core of their defense in first-team All-Wesco linebackers Jack Miles and Nick White.

The Timberwolves need to replace quarterback Conor Plaisance, who threw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. But junior-to-be Alex Cheesman enjoyed a strong summer and appears ready to fill Plaisance’s cleats.

Edmonds-Woodway returns quarterback Davis Giles, first-team All-Wesco lineman Travis Bakken and linebacker Mac McLachlan. The Warriors also have running back Junior Opoku-Mensah to replace the departed Desmond Young.

In Mukilteo, Kamiak returns the leading rusher in Wesco 4A in Austin Hall, as well as tight end Henderson Belk, linebacker Tyler Kunard and lineman Riley Briggs-Thomas. Rival Mariner welcomes back leading rusher Joshua Williamson and lineman Curtis Billen, considered one of the premier long-snapper prospects in the state.

At Cascade, second-year coach Joe Cronin has the Bruins headed in the right direction, and if they improve on last year’s 5-5 mark, they could be in contention for the division title. Among the returnees is lineman Randin Crecelius, one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the state. The Bruins also return offensive weapons Kaleb Dobson and K.J. Brady, the second-leading receiver in the 4A South last year. On defense, All-Wesco second-team linebacker Nate Elliot leads a strong squad.

It’s too early to tell who’s going to come out on top in the 4A South, but it’s almost certain the winner won’t be decided before Oct. 25.

— Aaron Swaney, Herald Writer

4. Who are these guys?

All but three members of the 2012 All-Cascade Conference first-team defense graduated and all but two first-team offense players departed as well. Gone is The Herald’s Offensive Player of the Year, Billy Green, who is now playing quarterback for Brigham Young University. Several of Green’s former teammates at King’s, which won its first Cascade Conference title last season, also have departed, including Mason Friedline (Yale) and Caleb Taylor (Washington).

The Knights aren’t the only ones with plenty of fresh faces. Lakewood lost its star trio of wide receiver Brandon Stott, running back Donovan Evans and quarterback/wide receiver/running back Justin Peterson, all first-team all-league performers. Quarterback Kolby Schueller also graduated, as did offensive lineman David Otte.

Finally, Archbishop Murphy — which finished third in the league last year before advancing to the 2A state quarterfinals — has to replace all-league first-teamers Alex Galgano (running back), Hans VanderWel (defensive back), Dakota Creed (defensive line) and Steven Kane (linebacker).

Even with all the turnover, there are still a few familiar faces returning this season. All-league first-team offensive lineman Taylor Comfort (Sultan) and Dylan Donohue (Lakewood) are back, along with Archbishop Murphy wide receiver/tight end Foster Wade, Sultan quarterback/safety Nick French and King’s receiver Lucas Swanson.

But one thing is certain; You’ll need a roster when attending a Cascade Conference game this fall.

— David Krueger, Herald Writer

5. Can Marysville Pilchuck surpass last year’s success?

The Marysville Pilchuck football team is coming off its best season since 1989. The Tomahawks advanced to the 3A state quarterfinals before losing to Eastside Catholic 65-34.

This season, Marysville Pilchuck looks to continue its success as it returns several key pieces from that run, including all-league first-team quarterback Jack Luton, now a senior, and linebacker Alex Gray.

And, of course, there’s Austin Joyner.

The then-sophomore running back rushed for 119 yards in the game against Eastside Catholic, giving him 2,036 for the season, just 19 yards shy of the school record.

Joyner has two more seasons to eclipse that mark. With fellow running back Kacey Walker now graduated, Joyner doesn’t just want to beat the record, he wants to shatter it.

“2,500 next year,” he said right after the Eastside Catholic game. “That’s the goal.”

Along with Walker, the Tomahawks also are dealing with the departures of Kyle Nobach, Jordan Hoorn and all-league first-team offensive linemen Iggy Gabov and Ishmael Perez — although Marysville Pilchuck has been known for its ability to reload with linemen.

The Tomahawks open their 2013 campaign against longtime 4A rivals Arlington, Lake Stevens and Snohomish before taking on Shorewood in their last tuneup for Wesco 3A North play. Marysville Pilchuck faces crosstown rival Marysville Getchell in the second annual Berry Bowl on Oct. 4 and once again closes out its regular-season schedule against Oak Harbor.

The Tomahawks ended their 2012 regular season with a wild 47-39 win over Oak Harbor, a victory that clinched the 3A North title for Marysville Pilchuck.

— David Krueger, Herald Writer

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