For much of the Glacier Peak High School football program’s 12-year existence, the Grizzlies have been known for their offense.
But over the past two seasons, Glacier Peak has undergone an identity shift.
After years of racking up points with a high-powered spread attack, the Grizzlies now lean on a stingy defense to win games. Glacier Peak allowed just 14.8 points per contest last season and has continued its defensive success this fall, yielding just 9.4 points per game during a 5-0 start.
When asked about the program’s growth on defense over the past two years, several players immediately pointed to their defensive-minded head coach.
“It’s definitely coach (Shane) Keck,” Glacier Peak senior defensive tackle Mason Bridges said.
“He came in, and we’ve been ballin’ (ever) since,” senior defensive tackle Tony McDaniel added.
Keck, a former California community-college defensive coordinator who was Cascade High School’s head coach from 2015 to 2017, joined the Grizzlies’ program last year as the defensive coordinator. Then after health issues prompted former head coach Nick Bender to step down shortly before last month’s season opener, Keck took over as GP’s head coach.
The Grizzlies struggled on defense prior to Keck’s arrival, surrendering 35 points per game in 2016 and 38.1 in 2017. But it’s been a different story since.
Glacier Peak didn’t allow more than 28 points in a game last season and hasn’t yielded more than 14 points in a contest this year. Heading into Friday night’s showdown of unbeatens against top-ranked Lake Stevens, the Grizzlies (5-0 overall, 3-0 Wesco 4A) have surrendered just 206 yards of total offense per game and limited all five of their opponents to 260 yards or less.
“He’s made defense a big point on our team,” Glacier Peak junior linebacker Ryan Black said. “Before, offense was our big thing and defense was just the other thing we have to do. But he’s … gotten us excited to go out and play defense.”
McDaniel said Keck excels at arming his defenders with knowledge and placing them in positions to succeed.
“As soon as (the opponent) lines up, we know what they’re going to run and know all their tendencies and know all the keys to look for,” McDaniel said. “He sets us up to succeed. … It’s not that we’re the greatest athletes. It’s that we just know what to look for all the time.”
Yet while the players said their coach has been the driving force behind the program’s defensive rise, Keck deferred credit to his players.
“I think, more than anything, it’s because we’ve got good players,” Keck said. “Last year, we were pretty good on defense because we had good players. And I think this year’s the same thing.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids that love to run around and do their job,” he added. “… Good players make good coaches.”
The Grizzlies returned a handful of starters from last year’s defense, but graduated five all-conference selections. The most notable loss was two-way standout lineman Ma’ake Fifita, now a member of the Washington State University football team. But despite the losses to graduation, new players have filled in and continued Glacier Peak’s defensive success.
“We maybe don’t have the superstar power that we did (last season), but I think we’re deeper this year defensively,” Keck said.
The Grizzlies’ defense is anchored up front by tackles Bridges and McDaniel, both returning starters.
“Those guys just always know what they’re doing,” Black said. “They’re always doing everything right, it seems like. I think it really sets the tone for our whole defense when we’ve got two senior captains out there doing exactly what they need to do every play.”
Black, meanwhile, highlights the linebacking corps.
“He’s as good of a defensive player that maybe I’ve ever coached in 15 years,” Keck said. “He covers ground really well. He can cover space, cover the flat and then still get back into the box. He’s made us pretty dynamic this year because of his ability.
“And he’ll always play to the (wider side of the) field. … It seems like a lot of teams are running the opposite direction (of him) — running to the boundary. And so for us, that means we’re limiting the field and forcing the ball into the shorter side of the field, which ultimately is going to make us better on defense.”
Glacier Peak lost standout junior defensive back Trevor Meldrom to an injury a few weeks ago, but safeties Jadon Claps and Logan Clay have returned to lead the secondary.
“Those guys are both returning starters, so having some experience in the back end has really helped us progress from last year to this year,” Keck said.
The Grizzlies have excelled in a 4-2-5 defense over the past two seasons, which marked a change from the program’s 3-4 alignment of years past.
Glacier Peak’s previous defensive coordinator installed the 4-2-5 scheme during the spring of 2018. And after Keck took over the position in August of last year, he decided to keep the 4-2-5 defense, despite his extensive background in the 3-4 alignment.
“Instead of having the kids switch something that they had spent all spring and summer learning, I said, ‘Hey, let’s roll with it,’” Keck said. “What I really like about it is it’s really simple, so it allows our kids to play fast, and it’s multiple enough that we can adjust and adapt to what other teams are doing. And it really fit our personnel.”
After opening Wesco 4A play by shutting down Jackson and Kamiak, the Grizzlies stymied Cascade’s high-powered Wing-T rushing attack last week. The Bruins entered averaging more than 400 yards rushing per game, but Glacier Peak held them to just 129 total yards and 2.7 yards per play.
“They have talent and they’re super disciplined,” said Cascade coach Jordan Sieh, who was an assistant under Keck during the latter’s time with the Bruins. “… (And) when it comes to the game plan, I don’t know if there’s anybody that knows more defense than Shane. … The guy is a college-level coach.”
The ultimate test for the Grizzlies’ defense comes Friday night against high-powered Lake Stevens (5-0, 3-0). The six-time defending Wesco 4A champion Vikings average 57.6 points per game on offense and have topped 70 points twice this season. In last year’s 24-21 loss to Lake Stevens, Glacier Peak held the eventual Class 4A state runner-up to its second-lowest point total of the season.
“We study them all year long,” Keck said. “For 12 months, we’ve been looking at what they do and what we can do, so we feel like we have a good grasp of what they do. But that doesn’t mean anything. The kids gotta go out and play and execute.
“I like our mentality,” he added. “I think our kids are confident. I think they’re loose. But I think they respect (Lake Stevens), as our coaching staff does, because, I mean, the proof’s in the pudding. … What they’ve done this year is unbelievable. Our kids are excited, they’re ready to go and they want to go see how good we are.”