The return to normal is starting to feel a bit more normal.
High school football teams across the state begin their 2022 seasons with the first day of practice Wednesday. Teams are back to full seasons with state playoff opportunities in sight for the second straight year following a COVID-shortened spring season. Week 1 action kicks off Friday, Sept. 2.
The Herald will delve into each local league in its upcoming season previews. But as practices begin, here’s a quick look at five storylines to watch this season:
1. Can anybody in Wesco 4A unseat Lake Stevens?
It’s no secret that the path to a league title in Wesco 4A goes through the juggernaut Vikings. Lake Stevens has won eight straight league titles and a whopping 50 consecutive games by an average of 40.1 points against Wesco 4A teams during its reign of dominance. And there’s no sign that the Vikings, last season’s Class 4A state runner-up, are slowing down.
Lake Stevens features the uber-talented running back duo of brothers Jayden and Jayshon Limar. Jayden, a senior, recently committed to the University of Notre Dame. He’s a four-star recruit ranked third in the state by 247sports.com. Jayshon, a sophomore, already holds offers from Pac-12 schools Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State. They’re slated to run behind an offensive line that graduated only one starter.
With the Limar brothers in the backfield and a number of other impact players returning, expectations are that the Vikings can compete for another state title in 2022. But that’s not to say they won’t be challenged in league play.
Both Glacier Peak and Kamiak showed that they’re closing the gap last fall. The Grizzlies gave Lake Stevens all it could handle last year while losing 34-28 in a de facto league championship game to end the regular season. Glacier Peak even had a chance to engineer a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. That came one week after the Vikings survived a scare against a rising Kamiak program. The Vikings needed a fourth-quarter TD from Jayden Limar to eek out a 35-28 win. Those games account for two of five games decided by one possession during Lake Stevens’ 50-game streak.
2. Will Stanwood build off its state playoff run?
One of the biggest surprises of the 2021 season was Stanwood’s Cinderella run to the first round of the 3A state tournament. The Spartans hadn’t posted a winning season in over a decade, and it looked like things were heading in the same direction after blowout losses to Kamiak and Marysville Pilchuck and another Stilly Cup defeat to rival Arlington had the team sitting 1-3 and 1-2 in league play. But it all started to click for Stanwood under first-year coach Jeff Scoma the following week. The Spartans trounced Marysville Getchell 49-0 and closed out the regular season by winning three of four games. That all led to one of the biggest upsets of the year when Stanwood edged a talent-stocked Lincoln-Tacoma squad 40-35 to earn their first state playoff berth since 1996.
The Spartans believe they have the talent to build off of last season’s success with nine starters returning on each side of the ball, including two-way senior standout Ryder Bumgarner, who totaled 1,516 yards and 19 TDs as the feature back in Scoma’s Wing-T offense, adding five interceptions and a score on defense. Bumgarner highlights an offense that returns its top four rushers from last season. Add in a defensive line that has Scoma excited due to its increased depth, size and experience, and Stanwood looks like it may have the formula to wear teams down by controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides.
As for a shot at a league title in Wesco 3A North? The Spartans should be in the mix. Arlington, Ferndale and Marysville Pilchuck finished in a three-way tie for first last season. Both Arlington and MP graduated a number key contributors on both sides of the ball, and the drop off from Stanwood to the league’s next three teams was vast last season. That leaves Ferndale as the Spartans’ likely toughest challenger. The Golden Eagles have plenty of talent coming back, including four-star senior running back/linebacker Isaiah Carlson and UW-bound three-star senior lineman Landen Hatchett.
3. Wesco 3A South provided some classics in 2021. Are we in for another exciting title chase?
The three-horse race for the Wesco 3A South title between Edmonds-Woodway, Monroe and Snohomish produced plenty of drama last season, with the three games between the teams being decided by a combined 14 points.
Snohomish pulled out an early 21-14 win over E-W in Week 3. E-W then vaulted itself back into contention by outlasting Monroe 33-28 two weeks later on the strength of two long TD runs and strip-sack fumble in the fourth quarter. That set up a wild regular-season finale between Monroe and Snohomish that determined if there would be an outright league champion or a shared title. The Bearcats came back from down 19 at half, forced overtime with a TD pass in the final minute and stopped a 2-point conversion attempt in overtime to win 42-40. That created a three-way tie for first in the league.
Each squad figures to be in contention again this season. Monroe returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense. That includes junior quarterback Blake Springer, whose 1,750 yards passing last season is tops among all returning signal-callers in Snohomish County, and a talented group of skill-position players to help replace the production of do-it-all playmaker Cole Pruett. Snohomish, which has won at least a share of the league title over the past three full-length seasons, brings back a strong quarterback of its own in senior Kale Hammer. The lefty had 1,308 passing yards last season and is slated to have his second and third leading receivers back this fall. The Panthers do have big shoes to fill with the graduation of leading rusher and receiver Joshua Vandergriend. E-W may be a bit of a wild card as it’s tasked with replacing nine all-league players, including its starting quarterback, leading rusher and top defensive lineman and linebacker. But the Warriors always seem to field a competitive group under longtime coach John Gradwohl.
4. Can Archbishop Murphy or Lakewood rebound in the tough Northwest Conference?
The Wildcats and Cougars entered the 2021 season with top-10 2A rankings in the preseason Associated Press poll, but neither team was able to gain much traction on the way to disappointing campaigns in the rugged Northwest Conference.
Perennial powerhouse Archbishop Murphy finished 3-6, including 1-4 in league play, in its first season under coach Josh Jansen. It was the first time the Wildcats finished with a losing record in a full-length season since 2013. Murphy struggled to score at times last season as it switched to a spread offense. The Wildcats were held to 18 points or fewer five times, including three times in five league games. But the return of starting quarterback Kai Lewis, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2, should be a welcome boost for Murphy in the second year of its new offensive system.
Lakewood came into the season ranked third after qualifying for the state quarterfinals in 2019 and blasting through its Wesco schedule in the shortened spring season. But the Cougars had a stop-and-go start to the season and needed three straight wins at the end to finish 5-4 (2-3 league). Lakewood relied heavily on the production of dual-threat senior quarterback Justice Taylor last season. The lefty totaled 34 combined touchdowns passing and rushing, and racked up over 1,000 more rushing yards than the team’s second leading rusher. The ability to replace that production will go a long way in determining if the Cougars can vault back into the league title hunt.
Each team will have to be at the top of its game if it’s going to rebound in the powerhouse league, which features state contenders Lynden, Sedro-Woolley, Burlington-Edison and Squalicum. With limited playoff spots available, chances are one or more of the league’s playoff-caliber teams will see their season end prematurely.
5. Will it be the year of the running back in Snohomish County?
It’s likely that nobody will replicate the historic numbers put up by Marysville Pilchuck’s Dylan Carson last season, but there’s loads of talented running backs returning to teams across the area.
The aforementioned Limar brothers of Lake Stevens make up what could be the most dynamic one-two rushing punch in the state. Glacier Peak returns the strong senior tandem of three-star WSU commit Trey Leckner, who ran for over 1,100 yards and added over 400 receiving in 2021, and Ryan King. Bumgarner leads Stanwood’s run-heavy Wing-T scheme. Cascade senior Julian Thomas surpassed 1,500 yards during a stellar junior campaign. Sultan junior Derek Feltner nearly reached 1,000 yards last season. Mountlake Terrace returns bruising junior running back Zaveon Jones, who led the team in rushing during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
In total, four of the area’s eight 1,000 yard rushers from last season are set to return. And a few more standouts should inevitably emerge throughout the year, too.