SNOHOMISH — Earlier this month, Ayden Ziomas and Evan Mannes were at a church get-together in a park when an unusual game of catch materialized between the Glacier Peak quarterback-receiver duo.
Ziomas began tossing grapes to Mannes, who used his mouth to catch and eat his quarterback’s pinpoint passes. They progressively increased the distance, with Mannes claiming he caught at least 10 in a row at one point. The highlight was an approximately 30-yard completion, which was documented on a camera phone and made its rounds on social media.
“That was kind of just the epitome of our whole connection,” Mannes said with a laugh after the Grizzlies’ season-opening practice Wednesday, reflecting on the grape-catching experience two weeks prior.
The two Glacier Peak standouts are close friends off the field and a dynamic duo on it, with both ranked among the top 100 senior recruits in the state by 247Sports.com.
“We’re hanging out all the time, doing everything together,” Ziomas said of his friendship with the 6-foot-4 Mannes. “He’s just a freak athlete … (and) a playmaker. If I need to, I can just put (the ball) up for him and I know he’ll go make a play.”
Mannes, who excels both at wide receiver and on defense, received a scholarship offer from the Air Force Academy this past spring. Colleges tend to see him more as a defensive player, but are intrigued mostly by his combination of height and athleticism.
Glacier Peak coach Nick Bender said Mannes likely will play outside linebacker on defense this fall, but that he also can play defensive end and even safety.
“On the defensive side, he’s a complete terror,” Bender said. “He’s a matchup nightmare. … Not many people can say they have a 6-foot-4 kid that can play safety.”
Bender said what stands out most is Mannes’ explosive acceleration.
“The kid can go to his 100-percent speed in probably two steps,” Bender said. “There’s no big buildup. … He’s at full speed in two steps, which is hard for an offense to account for.”
Mannes also is a difficult matchup on offense, where he caught 32 passes for a team-high 587 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Bender said his greatest strengths as a receiver are adjusting his routes to defensive coverages and utilizing his basketball background. A two-sport athlete, Mannes also was a key player on Glacier Peak’s basketball team this past winter.
“When he goes up for a catch or when he positions his body, it’s no different than going up for a rebound or posting up in basketball,” Bender said. “He understands how to use his body.”
Ziomas, meanwhile, is entering his fourth season as the Grizzlies’ starter under center.
The 5-foot-11 dual-threat quarterback had another spectacular season last year, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,521 yards, 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also showcased his speed and elusiveness by rushing for a team-high 517 yards and seven touchdowns.
Ziomas further displayed his ability this past offseason by quarterbacking his Ford Sports Performance team to a third-place finish in the Adidas 7-on-7 National Championship tournament.
“He’s probably the fastest kid on our team and is highly accurate,” Bender said. “I don’t think people give him enough credit for how accurate he is with his throws. … He puts (them) in a spot that only the receivers can get to.”
Bender said Ziomas’ advanced understanding of the game is one of his greatest assets.
“There’s no doubt that from an offensive perspective, he’s another coach on the field,” Bender said. “He knows every single person’s role, and he understands the scheme and why we’re doing certain things. … His football mind is beyond his age. It has been since he was a freshman.”
Another unique talent for Glacier Peak is 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior Ma’ake Fifita, a two-way lineman who has a scholarship offer from Washington State University. Bender said Fifita — whose older brother, Mosese, is on the Air Force football team — can power clean 330 pounds.
“He’s a great, explosive athlete,” Bender said. “There was one play at (Central Washington University) camp where basically he blocked three guys — a defensive lineman, a linebacker and a defensive back — all in one play, 45 yards apart. He beat our receiver down to the other side of the field, who was running with the football, because he’s that explosive.”
Mannes, Ziomas and Fifita each figure to play a prominent role this season in the success of a Glacier Peak team striving to break into the top tier of Wesco 4A.
Since moving up a classification in 2016, the Grizzlies have lost all four games against Wesco 4A powers Lake Stevens and Monroe by an average of 54 points per contest, while going a combined 9-1 against the league’s other five teams.
“That’s the film that we watch all offseason,” Mannes said of Lake Stevens and Monroe. “It’s what we think about all the time. It’s always our goal. They’re the top dogs, so we’re always wanting to take them down. We’re always trying to get better to beat them.
“We have a different attitude than last year completely,” he added. “I feel like everything’s changed. We have a whole new attitude, a whole new mindset. … This year, it’s all about the team. We’re always working hard together.”
Ziomas also praised the team’s tight-knit bond.
“We all really trust and invest in each other,” he said. “We all commit to the process. We trust our coaches (and) we trust each other. We all just have faith that if we put our all into this, it will pay off in the end.”