Lake Stevens football standouts Drew Carter and Trayce Hanks took different paths to this point.
Carter, a three-star college recruit and recent Eastern Washington University commit, has been a highly regarded player since early in his high school career. He’s started at safety all four years for the Vikings and at wide receiver the past two years.
Hanks, meanwhile, is a first-year starter on both sides of the ball. He had to wait his turn in Lake Stevens’ talent-laden program, and even changed positions prior to this season.
Their differing journeys have coalesced this fall, with both excelling as big-play receivers on offense and impact playmakers on defense for the undefeated Vikings.
The pair of two-way senior standouts have had their fingerprints all over another dominant season for Class 4A second-ranked Lake Stevens, which faces eighth-ranked Glacier Peak in Friday night’s de facto Wesco 4A title game.
“It’s very special to have not one, but two guys that are essentially game-changers on both sides of the ball,” Vikings coach Tom Tri said.
A nightmare matchup on both sides
It’s not often that a freshman starts in Lake Stevens’ juggernaut program. The seven-time defending Wesco 4A champions are seemingly always chock-full of talent, which often leaves very good players waiting until their junior or senior years before earning a starting role.
Carter was one of the exceptions.
As a freshman, the highly touted Carter earned a starting spot at safety on the Vikings’ 2018 state runner-up team — and even came up with an interception in the 4A state championship game against Union. And ever since, he’s been a stalwart on defense for Lake Stevens.
“He’s really special in that he’s got size, speed, range and physicality to him,” Tri said. “So he’s got a little bit of everything.”
What stands out about Carter at strong safety, Tri said, is his ability as an elite defender both in the box and in coverage. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Carter has six tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery this season.
“He’s got great tackling technique,” Tri said. “He’s the best edge tackler we’ve had at Lake Stevens in a long time, and we’ve had some really good ones. I mean, he comes up and he sets the edge on teams time and time again. He’s just fearless.
“But at the same time, he can turn his hips and run with the best receiver. … He’s (essentially) playing two different positions, but we don’t have to sub. That’s pretty rare, and he’s really good at both.”
And though his defense is what’s intrigued colleges the most, Carter also has developed into a big-time receiver on offense.
Carter was the Vikings’ leading receiver during this past spring’s abbreviated season and has been the team’s go-to target this fall, with 32 catches for 657 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has eight TD receptions in his team’s past three games, including three in a 35-28 win over previously unbeaten Kamiak last week.
Carter is a nightmare matchup for defenders, with his combination of size, physicality, speed and exquisite route-running.
“He’s a big kid that’s physical, but also has really good feet,” Tri said. “And he’s savvy too. He understands the difference between man coverage and zone coverage, and how to use his feet to set up the route that he’s trying to run.
“He’s got two different ways he’ll run a go route, two different ways he’ll run a slant, two different ways he’ll run an out or a comeback — based on whether it’s man coverage or zone coverage. … And when you combine all those talents, that makes him really tough to defend.”
Tri also praised Carter for his senior leadership on a Lake Stevens team that’s younger than usual.
“He’s (been) even more special this year just because his leadership,” Tri said. “His experience has helped numerous other (players).”
A position change and a breakout season
Prior to this season, Hanks had never played receiver before. He’d been a running back for his entire football career.
But this past spring, he approached Tri about changing positions.
The Vikings already had an ultra-talented tailback in four-star recruit Jayden Limar, who is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 7 junior running back in the nation and holds offers from the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame and Texas A&M.
So Hanks offered to move from running back to receiver, which would allow Lake Stevens to feature both Limar and Hanks on the field at the same time.
“He would’ve been an all-league running back, I have no doubt, on anybody’s team,” Tri said. “But he also knew that Jayden was a Division I running back. And so he unselfishly said, ‘Coach, I would love to play receiver.’ … And I said, ‘Absolutely. If that’s what you want to do, let’s give it a shot.’”
It couldn’t have worked any better.
Hanks has had a breakout season at slot receiver, where he’s showcased his speed and elusiveness while exploding for 563 yards from scrimmage and seven offensive TDs. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound playmaker has averaged 17.1 yards per touch and has been a big-play threat both as a receiver and ball carrier.
Hanks has 16 catches for 311 yards and four TDs, with much of his yardage coming after the catch on short passes and screens. He’s also been a weapon on fly sweeps, with 17 carries for 252 yards and three scores.
And he wasted no time making an impact. In the Vikings’ season-opening 20-3 win over perennial 3A state powerhouse O’Dea, Hanks was the difference-maker with two 70-yard TDs. One came on a fly sweep around the edge, and the other came on a contested deep ball that he hauled in and then sprinted the rest of the way for a score.
“He has surpassed my expectations already in (how) he learned the position and understands some of the nuances to it,” Tri said. “He’s not real big, but he’s physical and he’s got lateral quickness and the ability to speed cut and do that out in space as a receiver. And he’s learned how to run great routes and has good hands.”
Hanks said he learned some intricacies of the receiver position from Carter.
“I take some of my game from him, because he’s been a key receiver for our team for so long,” Hanks said. “So I’ll be trying to run routes just like him or take steps from him. … He’s taught me a lot about wide receiver.”
Hanks also is a first-year starter on defense. After rotating at cornerback this past spring, he earned a starting role there this fall. He’s made a big impact, with three interceptions and a pick-six.
“What he might (lack) in his size, he makes up for in his ability to stick his foot in the ground and close the air out quickly,” Tri said. “He’s (also) a good tackler in space. And he anticipates the ball. He’s smart and he’s savvy. He’ll bait cornerbacks into throwing his way. He’ll try to sit in between two guys instead of just covering one, knowing that he can break and maybe even go get a pick.”
And on top of that, Hanks is a major threat on special teams. He has two punt-return TDs. And in last week’s win over Kamiak, he returned a kickoff for a score.
Hanks has 11 total TDs this season between offense, defense and special teams.
“He’s got that ability to make one guy miss quickly,” Tri said. “And then once he gets into the open field, nobody’s gonna catch him with his speed and explosiveness. … He’s just a very athletic, all-around talent.”
As usual, most of the Vikings’ games this season have been blowouts. But in their two closest victories, Hanks and Carter were major reasons why they won.
In the triumph over O’Dea, Hanks scored two of his team’s three TDs and intercepted a pass on defense. Carter set up Lake Stevens’ other score with a 44-yard reception, and also had an interception and fumble recovery.
And in last week’s win over Kamiak, Hanks and Carter combined for four of the Vikings’ five TDs. Limar, who has 975 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs at running back this season, added the game-winning score.
As the nights grow colder and the competition ramps up, expect these ultra-talented Lake Stevens playmakers to keep making their presence felt all over the field.
Their names likely will be echoing from the speakers at Veterans Memorial Stadium all throughout Friday night’s showdown against league rival Glacier Peak, as the Vikings seek their eighth consecutive Wesco 4A title and their 50th consecutive win over a conference opponent.
“It would mean a lot,” Hanks said of winning another league crown. “We’re putting a lot into this game. … We’ve just gotta go out and do our thing.”