Conor Bardue proved during the 2016 football season that he’s got a good arm, can make smart decisions and be a leader for a football team. All of those traits helped him to a standout junior campaign in his first season as Lake Stevens’ starting quarterback.
But perhaps most importantly, he had the right mindset to succeed. He didn’t try to be the next Jacob Eason. He just wanted to be the best Conor Bardue he could be.
“He didn’t get caught up in all of the other peripheral things,” Vikings coach Tom Tri said. “He didn’t get distracted. He didn’t worry about (taking over) for Jacob. He just wanted to be the starting quarterback for Lake Stevens. That focus was impressive.”
Thanks in part to his ability to maintain that focus, Bardue posted a dominant campaign, becoming the latest in a string of great Lake Stevens quarterbacks. (Eason, Bardue’s predecessor, was the 2015 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year, one of the most heralded recruits in state history and is Georgia’s starter as a true freshman.)
Bardue’s numbers jump off the page — 71 percent completions, 3,023 yards, 41 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. He was a driving force behind the Vikings’ run to a Wesco 4A championship and the Class 4A semifinal round of the state tournament.
For his efforts, Bardue is The Herald’s 2016 All-Area Offensive Player of the Year.
“I played over my expectations,” Bardue said. “The numbers I put up were crazy; I never thought I’d do that. A lot of seniors graduated (from the 2015 team), so it wasn’t just me that had big shoes to fill. A lot of leaders stepped up, and we gained a lot of confidence. It was our time to shine, and we were able to execute.”
Bardue gained a lot of confidence after his first varsity start — he completed 17 of 20 pass attempts for 380 yards and seven touchdowns Sept. 2 against Stanwood.
“He answered questions that people might have about him,” Tri said, “and that was huge for him, because he cares so much about being successful, and he certainly felt that stress. It didn’t really affect his play, but I know he felt it at practice.”
Bardue had a bevy of talented skill players around him, and he didn’t hesitate to spread the ball around. His accuracy and ability to avoid turnovers separated him from his peers.
“I’ve been a quarterback all my life, and I’ve always been pretty accurate,” Bardue said. “I’d play catch with my dad in the front yard and I’d try to hit him in the chest 100 times before we were done. I got a lot of reps, so I was able to throw balls where I wanted them to go, and I transferred that (ability) to the season.
“When I was on the junior varsity, I tried to complete every pass I threw because I knew that I didn’t have the arm strength that Jacob had, and accuracy would have to be my strength.”
“His ability to get the ball out on time into open space was really impressive,” Tri said. “He was able to understand what the defenses were doing and make good decisions. Those are hard things to teach.”
Bardue also developed a certain toughness as the season went on.
“My presence in the pocket (improved),” Bardue said. “It was kind of frantic at the start of the season because the speed of the game is different from JV. I realized I could take a hit and not get hurt. Throughout the season I was able to take a hit and stay in there.”
Bardue is planning a full offseason of work — weightlifting, speed and agility training, 7-on-7 work and team camps — to prepare for his senior season.
“As a senior leader, I want to have (my teammates) take the mentality that it could be their last rep on every single play,” he said. “I want everyone on the team to push themselves, and we can become a great team again and keep the tradition going.”
Just like Bardue has kept the tradition of great Lake Stevens quarterbacks going.