The most well-known of the Lake Stevens Vikings is no doubt quarterback Jacob Eason. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. The highly regarded junior already has committed to play for the University of Georgia.
While Eason might attract most of the attention, the Vikings have a long list of receivers who make his job easier. Near the top of that list is senior Tevin Gray, who emerged as Eason’s favorite target a year ago, finishing the season with 61 catches for 838 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But Gray’s 2013 season didn’t start nearly as well as it finished.
He entered last year’s training camp with a strained hamstring that kept him out of most of the team’s summer activities. Having been unable to run most of the summer, he needed extra time to round himself into game shape.
“He came into the fall out of shape, basically,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said. “It wasn’t his fault, he just couldn’t run. He wasn’t in football shape. It took him three or four weeks.”
Gray’s statistics reflected his conditioning — or lack thereof. In the first four weeks of the season, he caught a total of eight passes for 164 yards and one touchdown.
Many teams rely on summer camps and practices for their players not only to get in shape, but to build rapport among teammates. Perhaps nowhere is that relationship more important than between a receiver and a quarterback. With Gray injured, the connection between he and Eason didn’t develop until well into the regular season.
“It took us some time to build that momentum and gain chemistry,” Tri said. “You could see they were good, but then they had the chemistry and that’s when it really started to blossom.”
In Week 5, against Mount Vernon, Gray caught six passes for 73 yards. The next week he caught seven passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns against Arlington.
“By Week 5 or Week 6 his hamstring started to heal up and he started to gain some confidence and got into football shape and then all of the sudden you started seeing his numbers (go up),” Tri said.
Over the final four weeks of the season, Gray proved his injury was buried in the past by catching 40 passes for 507 yards and four touchdowns. He caught 12 passes three times in the final four games, and his best game of the season came in a 53-49 win over Edmonds-Woodway in the Wesco 4A championship game. Gray caught 12 passes for 203 yards and four touchdowns.
Tri said he expects the connection between Eason and Gray to be even more potent this season.
“We’re going to find different ways to get him the ball, whether it’s a screen, a run, a vertical pass or a short pass,” Tri said. “We’re going to mix it all over the place.”
Gray, who ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash on the first day of practice, said he hopes to top 1,000 receiving yards this season, but even more important, wants to contribute to a deep run in the playoffs.
The Vikings open the season with two tough non-league opponents that should gauge how good they are. In Week 1 they host Meadowdale, and in Week 2 they host Marysville Pilchuck.
“I think our biggest game this year that I can think of is our non-league game against Marysville (Pilchuck),” Gray said. “Besides that, they shouldn’t be easy games. We’re going to need to work and play our best, but we’re looking to win Wesco.”
Tri expects an even better season out of Gray, but said the Vikings have several receivers on the roster he expects to contribute in a big way. Tri said having four or five receivers with 30-plus catches is not out of the question.
With the Vikings’ depth at receiver and Eason throwing them the ball, it could be a long season for opposing defensive backs.
“Hopefully it’s going to be really good and we’re going to connect a lot,” Gray said of his chemistry with Eason. “But we have four really good receivers and he’s going to try to spread out the ball a lot and hopefully it works out.”