Best of the preps

Mukilteo, Edmonds duo lead football picks

By AARON COE

Herald Writer

MUKILTEO — He was only 5 years old, but when the older kids got together to play football, they came looking for Matt Mulica.

Even then, when he lived in a Dallas suburb, he was nuts about the game. The kids on the block saw something in Mulica that Kamiak High School fans would become accustomed to during Mulica’s three years as a starter.

He goes all out on every play, and most of the time, he knows what the opponents’ offense is going to do well before the ball is snapped.

An outside linebacker who stands just 5 feet, 11 inches and 180 pounds doesn’t make 137 tackles — including 21 for loss and three sacks — with only his natural athletic ability.

"I just love to hit people," said Mulica, who has been named The Herald’s All-Area Defensive Player of the Year. "When I do something, I do it all the way."

Mulica has loved the game for as long as he can remember. His parents took him to local high school games on Friday nights in Flower Mound, Texas, where the crowds are as big as some at college games.

So when the Mulicas moved to Washington during his eighth grade year, it was difficult. Football is big, but there are other things to do in the Northwest. And Kamiak was a relatively new school that had yet to establish a football tradition.

Now Mulica believes it all may have been for the best. He helped Kamiak establish itself as a state football power. Mulica was a part of two state playoff teams, including this year’s team that played in a semifinal game at the Tacoma Dome, and is a three-time All-Western Conference 4A selection.

"He might not be physically huge, but he’s got a huge heart," Kamiak coach Dan Mack said. "He’s got a great attitude about life in general as well as football."

Mulica loves the game as much as anyone, but knows there is more to life than football. He dreams of learning to fly — and play a little football, of course — at the Air Force Academy. He’s hoping that his 3.95 grade point average and 1,250 SAT score — and ability to make running backs see little birdies flying around their heads — will make the dream a reality.

Several colleges, including Idaho, Idaho State, Central Washington and Western Washington, are also waiting to snatch him up.

"There’s no one I’d rather have defending the country than Matt Mulica," Mack said.

Mulica turned football into a thinking man’s game. As an opposing offense lined up in its formation, Mulica would often call out the play the other team was going to run.

Sometimes they had to burn a timeout. Sometimes they ran the play and paid the price.

"It’s fun to see them get frustrated," Mulica said. "Sometimes they really get psyched out."

One play defined Mulica’s season. The play also was a big reason why the Knights went to the state playoffs.

Kamiak played Lake Washington in a bi-district playoff game Nov. 7. The winner of the game would go to the state playoffs. The losing team’s season would end.

The score was tied at 15 late in the fourth quarter and the Kangaroos had the ball at midfield facing a third-and-12. The Lake Washington quarterback handed the ball off to a receiver who was cutting across the field for an apparent reverse. While the play was developing, Mulica noticed a Kang sneaking toward the end zone. The Kamiak defensive backs took off to stop the reverse, when suddenly the receiver stopped and threw down the field.

His target appeared to be wide open. Everyone but Mulica was thinking a Lake Washington score was inevitable. Mulica dove in front of the receiver and knocked the ball away to save a touchdown and Kamiak’s season. The Kangs punted with two minutes left, and the Knights won with a field goal in the closing seconds.

"He’s always done a solid job of watching film and being able to identify offensive sets," Mack said. "He just has a tremendous fire and passion for the game, and he’s a great leader."

The best part about sniffing out a play is the reward at the play’s end. There’s nothing better for Mulica than snuffing out a running back before he makes it to the line of scrimmage.

Mulica may want to fly a jet someday, but watching opponents fly backward is pretty fun, too.

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