Prep football: Lake Stevens’ O’Neil switching roles

The Lake Stevens Vikings football team has several familiar names from last season.

However, many of them will be starting this season at unfamiliar positions.

The biggest change involves senior Gavin O’Neil, who was the starter at quarterback for Lake Stevens last season and was named honorable mention all-league at the position. This year he finds himself as a roving offensive weapon for the Vikings.

“He was our starting quarterback (last season). And he was honorable mention. He was an honorable mention quarterback and here we fired him,” said Lake Stevens head coach Tom Tri with a laugh. “Go figure right? When’s the last time a kid’s been an all-league player and then going into his senior year as a captain he doesn’t play the position he played the year before?”

O’Neil fits the mold of Lakewood super-athlete Justin Peterson, who played receiver, running back and, at times, quarterback for the Cougars before moving on to play at Central Washington University. Peterson was so athletic, The Herald writers began to call having a receiving, rushing and throwing touchdown in the same game a “Justin Peterson.”

That’s exactly what Tri envisions for O’Neil. Lots of Justin Petersons.

“He’s a Percy Harvin-type kid that can throw the ball,” Tri said. “Justin Peterson would be another good example. I see him getting two-to-five carries per game, catching five-to-10 passes a game and maybe even throwing the ball a little bit here and there.”

O’Neil’s departure at quarterback frees up the starting spot for sophomore Jacob Eason. Eason has impressed Tri with his growth and maturity, and the Lake Stevens coach believes making the switch will make the Vikings better all over the field.

“Jacob Eason is our quarterback and he’s just doing a tremendous job,” Tri said. “His growth has been enormous from his freshman to his sophomore year, both mentally and physically. So we see him as being the starting quarterback.

“Gavin is just so darn athletic that we want to get him the ball in space. So it really makes us better at both positions. Not only can we throw the ball a little bit deeper and with some more accuracy down the middle of the field, but now we also have an extra speedster that has great hands, and understands what we’re doing on the offensive side of the ball, that we can move all over the field as an extra weapon in Gavin. It really made us better all the way around by allowing him to be the true athlete.”

O’Neil, who also plays free safety on defense, is not the only Viking to be switching roles this season. Tanner Krenz, who began last season as the starting running back for Lake Stevens, is moving to tight end this season after the emergence of Austin Otis, who was named a Wesco 4A North first-team running back last season.

“We had to find a way to get him on the field,” Tri said. “Tight end seemed like a good spot for his skill set. So we moved him there, not knowing if it would work or not, and he’s been phenomenal. We did the 7-on-7 (passing camp) at Lakewood and he was our best receiver there.”

Krenz will also play on defense, where Tri expects him to be a “first-team, all-league, shutdown corner.”

O’Neil and Krenz are both senior captains for the Vikings, as is returning all-league first-team linebacker CJ Lat — who is also looking to expand his role and get some snaps in at tight end on offense.

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