LAKE STEVENS — Tom Tri can relate to the frustration Mathew Sevao caused opposing coaches.
Every day in practice, the Lake Stevens head coach and offensive coordinator witnessed his starting offense struggle to keep Sevao out of the backfield.
“I dreaded when he was on the defensive side of the ball (in practice), because I knew he was going to wreck whatever we were doing on the offensive side,” Tri said.
“He was a drill-wrecker, because he was so dominant.”
Tri certainly was thankful to have Sevao on his side Friday nights, when opponents were left with the daunting task of blocking the star defensive end.
Sevao wreaked havoc on opposing offenses and tormented quarterbacks, registering a school-record 17 sacks during a spectacular senior season. He also recorded two forced fumbles, a safety, a blocked punt and more than 100 tackles.
For his extraordinary season, Sevao is The Herald’s 2017 All-Area Defensive Player of the Year.
“Sevao was a beast,” said Jackson coach Joel Vincent, whose team surrendered three sacks to the Lake Stevens standout. “I mean, we couldn’t block him. We tried to help our tackle all game with the running back, and not even that worked.
“Sevao might be the best defensive end to play here in my 20 years as a head coach in Wesco.”
Sevao registered a sack in nine of the Vikings’ 11 games this season, anchoring a defense that allowed just 13.5 points per contest. He had six multi-sack games, including a season-high four sacks against Glacier Peak.
“He was extremely consistent,” Tri said. “It wasn’t like he had two or three really good games. He had a (big) game every game he played.”
It was the second consecutive massive season for Sevao, who set a school record last year with 16 sacks. He then broke his own record this season and finished with 33 career sacks, 15 more than any other player in program history.
Prior to Sevao, the school’s single-season sack record belonged to current defensive line coach Matt Leonard, who played for the Vikings in the early 2000s.
“That’s kind of a bone of contention with our D-line coach,” Tri said with a laugh. “He claims he lost out on two (sacks) that he should have gotten credit for back in ’02 or ’03 or whatever. They like to just razz each other and give each other a good time.”
Sevao credits much of his success to Leonard, who helped him transition from linebacker to defensive end as a sophomore.
“I didn’t even know how to line up in a stance when I first moved to defensive end,” Sevao said. “I owe him everything. He’s the guy that taught me everything.”
Sevao’s favorite move — aptly named “the Leonard” — even came from his mentor.
“It was his move and he taught it to us,” Sevao said. “It’s basically just step one way and come back hard the other way. That’s my go-to move.”
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Sevao lacks the prototypical size of most standout defensive ends. But he makes up for it with technique, strength, natural instincts and a tireless motor.
“He plays way bigger than he is,” Tri said. “He knows how to use his hands and feet extremely well to get off blocks, play back-shoulder, cross-face — whatever he has to do to pursue the football.”
One of the more telling instances of Sevao’s game-changing impact came in the regular-season finale against Monroe and its dominant offensive line, which featured 285-pound Eastern Washington University commit Josh Jerome.
Jerome typically played left guard for the Bearcats, but was moved to right tackle that night to face Sevao. At times, Monroe even used star running back Isaiah Lewis to help Jerome block the Vikings star.
Sevao still managed to record a sack and double-digit tackles, helping Lake Stevens hold the Bearcats to a season-low 12 points.
“I’ve been doing football a long time,” Tri said. “I haven’t (ever) seen a team commit two of their best players to one of our best like that.”
“That’s how much we respected that guy,” Monroe coach Michael Bumpus added. “He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.”
Sevao was the Vikings’ leading tackler this season by a wide margin. It was a rare feat considering that linebackers — not defensive ends — typically rack up the most tackles.
He was a disruptive force on seemingly every play, fighting through frequent double teams to pressure quarterbacks and stifle rushing attacks.
“You run at him — he gets off blocks and makes a play,” Tri said. “You run away from him — he chases it down, scrapes hard down the line of scrimmage and makes the play.
“So as an offensive coordinator, you couldn’t run at him and you couldn’t run away from him. And as soon as you started to throw the ball, he’s in the backfield.”
“He’s just relentless,” Tri added. “He has one motor — it’s full-steam ahead.”
That motor extended to weight-room and training sessions, after which he’d often spend extra time practicing his technique on the field.
“We need more guys like that,” Tri said. “(Guys) that want to grind, that enjoy the work, that enjoy toiling in obscurity when it’s just you and your brothers in July and it’s 85 degrees outside. That where Matt flourishes.
“He would be a heck of a Navy SEAL type of guy. He doesn’t mind the pain and the suffering. He likes that kind of hard work — that old-school mentality of ‘let’s get after it.’”
Sevao, who said he’s interested in studying engineering or business, has aspirations of playing college football.
“If someone gives him a chance, he can play,” Tri said. “He’s proven in two years — going against some of the better linemen in the state — that he can not only compete, but have success and flourish.
“If someone just gives that kid a chance, he’s going to impress.”