Players run through drills during practice Wednesday afternoon at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Players run through drills during practice Wednesday afternoon at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Prep football is back: 5 storylines to watch as practice begins

High school football teams opened the season Wednesday with the first day of practices across the state.

High school football teams across the state hit the field Wednesday for their first practices of the season.

The opening day of practice is always a much-anticipated day for players and coaches alike, filled with excitement and optimism about the upcoming season.

But this year, it certainly carried some extra significance.

After the coronavirus pandemic wiped away last year’s fall season and left local teams with an abbreviated spring slate, Wednesday marked the official start of what teams hope will be a return to normalcy.

“The kids are really, really excited,” Marysville Pilchuck coach Brandon Carson said. “We had our team meeting (Tuesday) night and you could just see (it) in their eyes. … They’re really chomping at the bit to get out there and have somewhat of a normal season.”

Last year, prep football teams across the state were sidelined for the entire fall and most of the winter because of pandemic restrictions. For months, there was serious doubt as to whether there would be any sort of season at all.

After restrictions were loosened, teams ultimately got to play an abbreviated spring slate. But it was only five games — about half the length of a normal season. And there were no league titles or postseason to play for.

This year, teams are slated to play a normal and full-length season — complete with state playoffs. The first night of games for local teams is Sept. 3.

“We’re just fired up — kids and coaches and everybody,” Glacier Peak coach Shane Keck said.

“The most important thing is that kids get a chance to play,” he added. “And for kids that missed half a season last year, that’s the best part about this. … They worked their tails off this summer and really put themselves in position to hopefully have a really good year.”

One of the biggest differences this year is the quick turnaround from the spring season to the start of fall practice.

Normally, teams have about nine months between seasons. This year, the gap was just four and a half months.

Jadon Claps makes a catch during practice Wednesday afternoon at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jadon Claps makes a catch during practice Wednesday afternoon at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Glacier Peak opted for a relatively normal summer of offseason work. The Grizzlies held two weeks of practice, attended a modified team camp, played in 7-on-7 events and did weight training.

Marysville Pilchuck, meanwhile, chose to bypass a team camp and scrimmages. Instead, the Tomahawks focused mostly on strength and conditioning. Carson said that was largely because of the quick turnaround and the luxury of his team returning so many starters who got experience this spring.

“We just kind of wanted to heal our kids up and just get after it in the weight room,” Carson said. “… We had a lot of kids that got a lot of live reps against some really good competition (this spring), so that’s why we didn’t scrimmage like some of the other schools did.”

As the past year and a half has shown, nothing is set in stone during a pandemic. But Wednesday marked a milestone in high school football’s return to normalcy.

And in a little more than two weeks, teams hope to reach another milestone and kick off their seasons under the Friday night lights.

“It’s invigorating to actually get back to what we did about two years ago,” Carson said. “… We’re really excited to get started here, and hopefully everything goes as planned.”

5 STORYLINES TO WATCH

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:

Can Lake Stevens contend for the 4A state title?

Over the past decade, Lake Stevens has been the undisputed king of Snohomish County prep football and one of the premier Class 4A programs in the state.

The Vikings have captured seven consecutive Wesco 4A titles. They’ve won 46 consecutive games against Wesco 4A opponents, dating back to 2013. And they’ve advanced to eight of the past nine 4A state playoffs — including five trips to the state quarterfinals, three to the state semifinals and a state championship game appearance in 2018.

Lake Stevens is coming off another dominant campaign this spring, rolling past many of the area’s other top teams en route to a perfect 5-0 season. The Vikings outscored opponents by 22.2 points per game, including a runaway 63-35 season-finale win over previously unbeaten Glacier Peak.

And though Lake Stevens graduated a slew of talented players — including star quarterback Tanner Jellison — the program always seems to reload. With four-star running back Jayden Limar and three-star receiver/defensive back Drew Carter leading the way, the Vikings figure to once again be in the 4A state title mix.

Ryan King rushes during practice Wednesday afternoon at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Ryan King rushes during practice Wednesday afternoon at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Can Glacier Peak earn its first-ever 4A state berth?

Glacier Peak has yet to reach the state playoffs since moving up to the 4A level in 2016. But could this be the year it breaks through?

The Grizzlies are coming off a strong 4-1 spring season, with an impressive slate of blowout wins over Marysville Pilchuck, Snohomish, Archbishop Murphy and Monroe. Glacier Peak outscored those four teams by 32.3 points per game, which was more than perennial power Lake Stevens did against those same four opponents.

The Grizzlies actually hung with Lake Stevens for most of their season-finale showdown, trailing by just seven points before the mighty Vikings used a fourth-quarter blitz to pull away. Aside from that one bad quarter, it was a highly successful spring for Glacier Peak that should propel the program going into this fall.

There are some key players to replace, with the most notable being star running back Ryan Black and standout quarterback Tyson Lang. But with about half of their starting lineup returning on both sides of the ball, the Grizzlies seem poised to make a run at their first-ever 4A state berth.

Can Marysville Pilchuck repeat as Wesco 3A North champs?

Don’t be fooled by Marysville Pilchuck’s 2-3 record this spring. The Tomahawks played an ultra-tough schedule, with their three losses coming to a trio of high-caliber 4A programs in Lake Stevens, Union and Glacier Peak. And they gave Lake Stevens a run for its money, rallying to tie the perennial power Vikings in the fourth quarter before losing by just seven points.

That experience should pay dividends this fall for Marysville Pilchuck, which brings back nearly its entire starting lineup. The Tomahawks return about eight or nine starters on both sides of the ball, including star running back Dylan Carson and almost the entire offensive line from their high-powered Slot-T rushing attack.

Ferndale is again expected to be a serious contender for the Wesco 3A North crown. And after a rough spring season, Arlington should be improved. But with so much experience coming back, Marysville Pilchuck appears well positioned to make a run at back-to-back league titles and a second consecutive trip to the 3A state playoffs.

Who will win the new-look Wesco 3A South?

The Wesco 3A South takes on a new look this fall. Monroe joins the league after moving down from 4A, while Mountlake Terrace joins after moving up from 2A. And two league members that have struggled in recent years — Everett and Shorewood — have stepped aside to play independent schedules.

Snohomish will be going for a three-peat after winning each of the past two Wesco 3A South titles. Edmonds-Woodway is coming off a 5-0 spring season and is almost always a league-title contender. And then there’s Monroe, which adds some serious punch to the league after finishing as the Wesco 4A runner-up in four of the past five full-length seasons.

Among the local leagues, the Wesco 3A South has had some of the most tightly contested league-title races in recent years. And it appears that could be the case again this fall.

Can perennial 2A state contenders Lakewood and Murphy make another deep run?

Lakewood and Archbishop Murphy both reached the 2A state quarterfinals in 2019, the most recent full-length season. And expect both programs to be in the state-playoff mix again this fall.

Lakewood steamrolled to a dominant 5-0 campaign this spring, outscoring opponents by a whopping 46.8 points per game. The Cougars annihilated a trio of lower-tier Wesco teams and beat Archbishop Murphy by 11 points in a game that wasn’t as close as the final margin indicated.

Lakewood graduated numerous key players from that team, which likely would’ve been capable of a deep state-playoff run in a normal season. But the Cougars still have a good group of talent returning, highlighted by Washington State University-bound lineman Jakobus Seth.

Archbishop Murphy, meanwhile, embarks on a new era under first-year head coach Josh Jansen, who was promoted from defensive coordinator. The perennial power Wildcats have a wealth of experience coming back, with about eight or nine returning starters on both sides of the ball.

Archbishop Murphy was another team whose 2-3 record this spring was deceiving, as its three losses were to Lake Stevens, Glacier Peak and Lakewood. With so many starters returning, the Wildcats figure to once again be a force at the 2A state level.

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