Edmonds-Woodway quarterback Steven Warren Jr. lines up to throw a pass during practice on Monday in Edmonds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Edmonds-Woodway quarterback Steven Warren Jr. lines up to throw a pass during practice on Monday in Edmonds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

E-W bucks run-first trend to develop explosive passing attack

With an array of playmakers at skill positions, including QB Steven Warren Jr., the ground-heavy Warriors have taken to the air.

EDMONDS — For years the Edmonds-Woodway High School football team’s offense has leaned on a strong running game.

But last season’s rendition of the Warriors offered a different style of play on Friday nights.

With standout quarterback Steven Warren Jr., who threw for over 2,000 yards, and a group of playmaking receivers, E-W showed out as one of the area’s most prolific passing attacks.

“We really try and do whatever the skill-set of the kids is,” 28th-year Warriors head coach John Gradwohl said. “I have always been a run-first guy, but we had a lot more receivers than normal, and we’ve obviously got a very talented quarterback. That kind of took precedence over the running game.”

For senior wide receiver Diego Escandon, it was a noticeable change from the E-W teams he grew up watching.

“I remember watching the great running backs when I was younger, so I was definitely expecting that type of system,” Escandon said. “But then when I got here and there was a lot of athletes around here, a lot of people who can move and catch the ball, I knew it was going to be different, and I’ve seen that the last two years. It’s been really fun.”

Nearly all the major weapons in the passing game return to run it back this fall. Warren, a senior, enters his second season as the starter. Four of his top five receivers return, including the dangerous duo of all-league picks Escandon and senior Jesse Hart, who combined for 1,310 yards and 10 TDs.

With plenty of firepower in the fold, the Warriors hope their ability to air out with the best of them can carry the program to a Wesco 3A South title.

“I think every game should be competitive and every game we should be able to win,” Escandon said. “We’re just trying to go one step at a time. You gotta win the first game, but you look at the schedule and you see there isn’t a game that we shouldn’t be able to win. I think that’s the way we all see it.”

Last year’s passing breakout came from a group of largely unknowns. E-W returned just two starters on offense and was breaking in an entirely new starting varsity core at quarterback and receiver. There were some early growing pains, according to the group, namely a pair of losses by a combined five points to start the campaign.

Then, the passing game started rolling midseason. Warren threw for a season-high 368 yards in a Week 5 win over Shorewood and went on to record at least 222 yards passing in each game after, excluding versus Monroe when he was removed in the second quarter due to injury.

“We all just built that chemistry and it showed on the field,” Warren said.

Warren finished the season with 19 TD passes, a 62.3% completion rate and joined a short list of Warriors quarterbacks to reach the 2,000-yard mark in a season. He also had just four interceptions in 236 pass attempts, good for a 1.7% interception rate that’s tops among all returning quarterbacks in the area with at least 100 pass attempts last season.

“I’ve never seen him make the same mistake twice in a game. He learns as the game goes on,” Gradwohl said. “… The other thing is he’ll come to the sideline with ideas of plays that would work against that defense. He’s very intellectual and obviously he’s got the physical talents.”

With Escandon and Hart, Warren has a pair of receivers whose speed and elusiveness allow them to get open downfield and also turn short passes into big gains with yards after the catch. Hart reached 100 yards receiving four times last season and Escandon had 60 or more yards five times.

“They understand our offense and our routes and where they’re supposed to be,” Gradwohl said. “… They’ve got a really great relationship with Steven. He knows where they’re going to be. He’s got a lot of confidence in those two.”

Adding to the attack is big-bodied senior tight end David Danyo, who’s 6-foot-4 frame makes for a big-play threat down the field even in tight coverage.

“When we need a big play, he’ll go up and get it,” Warren said.

For Gradwohl one of the most impressive parts of this group is that there’s no egos.

“(They’re) not selfish,” Gradwohl said. “They just want the team to be successful. If they’re a big part of it today and maybe not next week, that’s great. They’re team guys.”

He also highlighted their contagious work ethic.

“When you’re teaching kids that love the game and work hard, that makes it a lot of fun for coaches,” Gradwohl said. “ … These kids love the game and work their tail off. I can go to practice all day long for stuff like that.”

If the team wants to reach its goal of a Wesco 3A South title, which it’s picked to be a contender for this fall, its biggest obstacles include defending champion Monroe and perennial contender Snohomish, who both topped E-W last season.

The Warriors are eager to rewrite the script in those matchups this time around.

“All the games we lost (last season), we want to get those games back this year,” Hart said.

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