By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
The Mountlake Terrace football team is going to look a little bit different when the players hit the field this fall.
It’s not that the roster has experienced a huge turnover. In fact, almost all of the key players from last year’s team are back.
The Hawks’ helmets, however, are going to be a darker shade of grey. The change is a way for the team to make a statement about the upcoming 2012 season.
After back-to-back 6-4 seasons and the school’s first-ever district playoff appearance, Mountlake Terrace endured a tough 2011 campaign, finishing with a 2-8 overall record.
The helmet color change helps to signify a new start.
“Even though a lot of the same players are back, it’s a whole new group of players that is on the roster than the group of previous three or four years that really turned the program around,” Mountlake Terrace coach Tony Umayam said. “They want to start their own identity from the group that turned the Terrace program around.”
Last season’s struggles weren’t a huge surprise since the roster was the youngest in terms of experience that Umayam has coached in his eight-year tenure with the Hawks.
“The good thing about that is we pretty much have everyone back from last year,” he said. “We do have a lot of varsity game experience on the roster.”
Umayam and his coaching staff are making some changes, especially on offense, which still will revolve to a large extent on second-team, all-league running back Devante (DJ) Downs.
The problem was that every other team in the Western Conference 3A knew that Downs was Mountlake Terrace’s go-to player in the backfield, and they game-planned to shut him down. Last year’s offensive line also had its struggles.
“Last season was difficult (for Downs),” Umayam said. “His freshman year when he led the league in touchdowns, he had the best line in school history. Last year was an adjustment period with a whole new line. We didn’t have any returning starters and they were relatively inexperienced.”
Most of the offensive line will have a year’s experience, but the players up front still are young, Umayam added.
“We’re going to be doing some things differently on offense in order to hopefully help the offensive line create some creases for DJ,” Umayam said. “I’m expecting the offensive line to play at a higher level. Some of the schemes and techniques are going to be different than in previous years.”
The other change is that the Hawks plan to involve more people in the offense. Umayam noted that the Hawks have run a pro-style type of offense with Downs.
“We’re going to focus a lot more on misdirection and getting the ball to different playmakers in order to make the defense defend more than DJ,” Umayam said. “Last year, teams were able to focus on DJ and we didn’t have enough other options to pose a threat.”
Much of the spring practices have revolved around developing other individuals on offense.
“We’ve tended to spend more time on offense than on the defensive side of the ball during our spring practices,” Umayam said. “The players are doing a good job picking it up. I think the big benefit is the players are buying into the offense that spreads the ball around and they’re having fun with the offense.”
A key person who’ll be helping to distribute the ball is returning senior quarterback Beau Kennedy. Umayam expects more of Kennedy following the QB’s first season as a starter.
“We have expectations he’s going to be able to stand in the pocket and make a decision better than last year,” Umayam said. “We know that he can improvise and he made a lot of plays for us last year just by being able to make something out of nothing when a play broke down.”
Kennedy will have plenty of talent to throw to with returning wide receivers Tye Esparza, Quintin Barnard and Shawn Evenson. Umayam also plans to make use of second-team, all-league safety Mason Stone, who’ll be in the backfield and as a flanker.
“The players are excited to be back and really put last year behind them,” Umayam said. “Last year at this time … we were a team that needed to learn what varsity football was about — everything from the commitment to the work ethic to being prepared to perform at this level. This year we know what it’s all about.”
It’s a matter of going out and executing at a high level.”