By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Expect the unexpected.
That pretty much sums up the motto of the Mountlake Terrace football team’s offense this season.
The Hawks didn’t see much change in personnel from last year since they only graduated about half a dozen seniors.
But head coach Tony Umayam and new offensive coordinator Mike Yalowicki have shaken up the offense with a new system.
“Putting in an new offensive system has its challenges,” Umayam said. “That’s what we’ve been working on. We’re actually going to have an offensive that is going to have multiple backs carrying the football. They’ll be a good amount of misdirection. We’re going away from the pro style we’ve had for quite a few years.”
What does that mean for the opposition? Instead of focusing all of their attention on second-team, all-league running back Devante Downs, the Hawks’ rivals won’t know who is going to be carrying the ball.
Last year, defenses zeroed in on containing Downs and Mountlake Terrace struggled, finishing a disappointing 2-8 overall.
“We have a lot of running backs that can carry the football,” Umayam said. “We want to make sure to have offensive sets to be able to give different guys the football instead of having a tailback &8211; like Devante or Casey Ellersick or Carroll Powell – instead of having a guy that carries about half our offense or two-thirds of our offensive load.”
Downs nevertheless figures prominently into the Mountlake Terrace offense. The junior standout (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) came into practice a little bigger than last year.
“He’s on track to really have a nice career,” Umayam said. “He’s put on some pounds and I believe that sharing the football is going to open things up for him a little more. Our offensive system is going to help that out.”
But the Hawks still know whom they can turn to when they need a critical first down or are down on the goal line.
“He’s going to be a big part of our offense,” senior quarterback Beau Kennedy said of Downs. “He’s willing to put the team on his back when needed.”
Downs might see some additional action on the defensive side as a linebacker. It’ll likely be on a spot basis.
“It depends on how much of a toll the offense is going to take on him,” Umayam said. “We’d like to be able to use him on defense.”
Kennedy is ideally suited to run the new offense. It plays to his strengths, according to Umayam.
The senior quarterback should be able to improvise and create plays.
“It gives him a chance to be in the shot gun and be a ball carrier,” Umayam said. “He’s one of the four different guys in the backfield that can carry the football.” Chris Guerrero, Jay Hang and Mason Stone should be among the players vying for playing time in the backfield.
Umayam also wants to get Stone, a second-team, all-league defensive back, more involved in the offense as a flanker.
“We plan to use him and use his explosiveness better this year,” Umayam said. “We want to do a better job in our offense in getting him the ball.”
Kennedy sees plenty of talent at wide receiver with seniors Shawn Evenson, Quintin Barnard and Tye Esparza.
“We’ve got depth everywhere,” Kennedy said.
How does Downs feel about having more options on offense?
“We have a better system that we’re running,” he said. “We have more weapons. Last year we had one person they focused on. You don’t know who is going to get the ball (this year).”
Some of last year’s struggles can be traced to what was a young and inexperienced offensive line. Those players are back with a year’s experience. Senior Jevin Pahinui (6-4, 250) serves as the anchor for both the offensive and defensive lines.
“Last year we had more challenges,” Downs said. “Every week we had different starters. This year we had a core of five people that know what they’re doing. They’re really strong.”
The offensive line still is a work in progress, according to Kennedy, but he likes the effort players are putting in at practice.
“There’s a process. It just takes time,” Kennedy said. “We’re working hard every day on it. We’re definitely improving every day. We’ll see when the first game comes. That’s when the challenge will be.”
Mountlake Terrace’s success this season will be dependent to a large degree on the offensive line’s performance.
“They’re still relatively young but there’s a good amount of varsity experience,” Umayam said. “With the change in offense, we’re really counting on the offensive line to pick things up. If the offensive line starts to jell, then we can be pretty good on offense.”
The offensive line has a different approach to blocking.
“We’re not going to just try to move people anymore,” Umayam said. “We’re going to have to have a little more misdirection and deception in order to create angles and help the offensive line that way. It’s a different focus. It’s definitely not more for them to learn. The coaching staff has done a nice job of trying to simplify rules that the offensive line can understand and pick up easily.”
Yalowicki’s shift from his previous duties as defensive coordinator means that Umayam takes over the defensive responsibilities. Umayam isn’t planning any major changes on defense.
Stone has significant responsibilities on defense.
“He’s the guy back there that directs a good amount in the back seven,” Umayam said. “He’s the last line of defense. It’s good to have a guy back there to clean up your mistakes.”
The Hawks say they’ve learned from the hard knocks they experienced last year and have put in the hard work needed for a successful 2012 season.
“I think we’re more confident,” Kennedy said. “We’re more prepared. Everybody is hungry and wants to win this year.”