Lake Stevens junior quarterback Kolton Matson throws alongside the other quarterbacks during the Vikings’ first practice of the year Wednesday, August 16, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens junior quarterback Kolton Matson throws alongside the other quarterbacks during the Vikings’ first practice of the year Wednesday, August 16, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Defending 4A state champion Lake Stevens ready to ‘start all over again’

After winning it all last year, a youthful, new-look Vikings squad is hungry to make its mark.

LAKE STEVENS — Defending 2022 Class 4A state champion Lake Stevens was back on the gridiron for practice Wednesday, as the Vikings look to retool with a younger group to run things back this fall.

Lake Stevens first-ever state title came on the heels of championship appearances in 2018 and 2021. The Vikings broke through for the gold last season, finishing with a 12-2 record.

“Every year is a new start,” head coach Tom Tri said. “It does feel good to know that we’ve been there multiple times in the last few years. It’s nice to know we can do it, that if we go play good 11-on-11 football that we can go win any game we want we want to. … We want to go win another state championship, but it’s not really another one, it’s just go win. … Start all over again.”

With three returners on offense and five returners on the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings coaching staff will look to blend in some younger talent into a handful of open starting spots for the upcoming year as they look to repeat.

“We’re young and we have a long ways to go with experience,” Tri said. “That being said, I think the guys who we’re replacing last year’s starters with are good young athletes, hungry football players.”

Returning juniors Jayshon Limar and Kolton Matson, both of which figure to be key cogs in the Vikings offensive attack, will look to continue in their development as go-to options.

Lake Stevens junior running back Jayshon Limar takes a shovel pass during the Vikings’ first practice of the year Wednesday, August 16, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens junior running back Jayshon Limar takes a shovel pass during the Vikings’ first practice of the year Wednesday, August 16, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Jayshon, the younger brother of 2023 graduate and University of Oregon-bound star Jayden Limar, is set to return after an injury cost him the majority of the 2022 season. He’s slated to take over as the No. 1 running back, with Matson manning the quarterback spot.

Matson, a two-year starter for the Vikings, looks to build off a standout sophomore year that saw him pile up 1,722 passing yards (17 touchdowns, seven interceptions) and a 70% completion rate.

Returning senior left tackle Bryce Slezak will lead a new group after the Vikings graduated three former all-league picks from the offensive line.

Defensively, senior Steven Lee Jr. should be one of the more heavily relied upon returning cornerbacks after losing six All-Wesco 4A defenders to graduation. Returning All-Area linebacker Mason Turner, a senior, looks to be the Vikings impact defender and stopper after an 142-tackle season in 2022.

“There’s a big expectation there on the defensive side of the ball that we gotta get stops, get turnovers and tackle well. That’s our job as coaches to make sure that our guys are ready and can go do those things. … We’ll be a bit inexperienced to start the year out.”

Lake Stevens defensive linemen run through drills during the Vikings’ first practice of the year Wednesday, August 16, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens defensive linemen run through drills during the Vikings’ first practice of the year Wednesday, August 16, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

With losing several key throwing targets as well, the new-look wide receiver corps will feature fresh bodies, along with returner David Brown.

“I think we’ve got some kids that we can really spread the ball around to this year,” Tri said. “We think the guys that we have will be ready and up for the task. We feel good about our receiver group right now.”

The Vikings non-league schedule, which includes bouts against Bellevue, Eastlake, Federal Way, West Linn (Oregon) and Garfield on opening night (Sept. 1), are all viable early-year tests for a squad that will look for another deep postseason campaign.

“Adjusting to game speed is my biggest concern,” Tri said. “We’ve got team speed, size and strength, but inexperience is what concerns me the most, how quickly they can adjust to the bright lights of Friday night football . … We’ll be able to catch the ball and take care of the ball … but you can’t get that experience until you go out there and execute it.”

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