By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
LYNNWOOD — Expectations are once again running high for the Meadowdale football team.
Then again, what would you expect after the Mavericks put together two 11-1 seasons and made two appearances in the state quarterfinals in the last three years?
Head coach Mark Stewart sees a lot to like with his 2012 squad – but there’s also work to be done, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The offense returns plenty of talent in the skill positions and on the offensive line. Three seniors (quarterback Brian Marty, running back Giavani Shepard and wide receiver Ryan White) lead an offense that could be just as explosive as last year’s, which averaged 33 points per game. Shepard earned second-team, all-league running back recognition, while Marty and White were honorable mention selections.
Three offensive linemen, including second-team selection Nathan Cloud-Rouzan, are back.
“We’ve got some good pieces,” Stewart said.
The newcomers to the line are fitting in well, according to Shepard.
“Our three lineman that came back, they’re taking charge,” he said. “They are not only helping and encouraging, they’re making sure the two sophomores and two juniors coming in are doing good. I like the way they’re looking now.”
Shepard was part of what was dubbed the “smash and dash” duo with former teammate Kyle Newsom, who graduated last spring. Shepard will continue to provide the dash with a number of players providing the potential smash. Seniors Michael Cummings and Chace Diemond both are expected to see time in the backfield with Shepard.
“We have some guys in the program who are ready to step up and do a pretty good job and contribute,” Stewart said.
Eric Marty, last year’s offensive coordinator and older brother of Brian, was hired by Oklahoma Panhandle State University as an offensive assistant and wide receivers coach. His departure means that Stewart will reassume the offensive coordinator duties that he’s done in the past.
“It’s a little bit different not having him (Eric Marty) calling the plays,” Brian Marty said. “Coach Stewart has changed things up a little bit. We’ll be just fine.”
The biggest area of focus during the offseason was on defense, which saw the departure of seven starters. Three of the four linebackers are gone, as are two safeties.
“We’ve been working pretty hard on the defensive side of the ball,” Stewart said. “That’s been a big push for us to kind of get us to the point where we can have the defense like it was last year.”
The Mavericks are looking toward key returners Jeremy Gomez on the line, Cummings at linebacker and Josiah Evans in the secondary. Cummings and Evans earned first-team, all-league honors, while Gomez was a second-team, all-league selection.
Shepard, who also plays cornerback, sees an increase in overall team quickness on defense.
“Speed, speed. They (will) call us the LSU defense this year,” Shepard said.
The Louisiana State University defense, one of the best in the nation, is known for its speed and pressure.
“We’re working with some pretty good guys that can run real well,” Stewart said. “So from a coaching standpoint, the faster they get, the smarter I tend to get. Now it’s a matter of playing together as a unit and understanding where to go.
“The cupboard is not bare. We’ve got a little tougher schedule, which will be good for us. I think we’ve got a good group of guys who waited their turn and are ready to step up and do their part and be a part of Meadowdale football.”
Meadowdale advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2009 and 2011.
Stewart and his players feel the Mavericks are not that far off from taking that next step and earning a trip to the Tacoma Dome.
“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing, work hard, give it 110 percent,” Shepard said.
“We’re really close,” Marty added. “Everyone needs to focus as a team and come together.”
Few teams have experienced the success the Mavericks have had the last few years.
“As a high school football player in a program you can feel good about being 11-1 and beating some quality teams in the playoffs,” Stewart said. “I think everybody is rooting for our program to take that step. These guys are certainly going to work hard to get there.”