EVERETT — After making three straight postseason appearances from 2014-2016, the Mariner High School football team has won just five games over the past two seasons.
But with a trio of talented skill-position players returning to lead its offense, the Marauders are ready to end their brief postseason hiatus.
“I think we’re gonna stack up pretty well (with the rest of the conference),” junior quarterback Jackson Cole said. “We had some tight games last year and we had some teams that we felt like we kind of gave the game away to. So we’re really working on coming together as a team.”
Senior wide receiver/tight end Roman Savchuk — a second-team selection to The Herald’s All-Area team after last season — gives Mariner its big-play threat on the outside, 240-pound senior running back Josiah Pesterkoff provides a stout, bruising force in the run game and Cole, a dual-threat QB, is a breakout candidate after leading the Marauders to two victories in just three starts during his sophomore season.
“Jackson can hand it off, he can run, too. Roman can catch anything thrown to him. I can run people over,” Pesterkoff said. “It’s a pretty dominant trio.”
Paving the way for the Marauders’ playmakers is an offensive line that head coach Mark Stewart expects solid improvement from last season. Mariner returns a pair of starters up front and handful of backups that garnered valuable experience last season.
“It’s just a matter of getting some continuity and getting some things going there,” Stewart said.
The talent on offense was there, so what was missing from last season’s 2-7 squad?
According to the trio, it was a true sense of leadership and accountability from the team’s players.
“Last year, we really didn’t have any people step up and lead the team,” said Savchuk, who hauled in 37 receptions for 676 yards and six touchdowns in 2018. “This year we’re trying to improve on that, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job, too.”
Establishing that leadership and accountability has included giving back to Mariner’s youth football league, which Cole said players have volunteered their time to in an effort to “build a sense of community” around the program.
“If we step up and we demonstrate how the program should be ran and how we should act in it, than obviously that’s all the younger guys are going to know so they can carry it on,” Cole said. “… So we’re really focused on being positive role models.”
Another factor in last season’s struggles was a defense that allowed 33.6 points per game.
Stewart, entering his fifth season at Mariner, said shoring up the team’s defense is a point of emphasis heading into the season.
“Our big thing is we gotta establish that (we’re) going to stop the run,” Stewart said. “That comes back to understanding what our schemes are, understanding our run fits and just getting guys to understand how to get off the field.”
The Marauders get their first chance to prove their ready to take the next step and get back to the postseason in two weeks when they host Arlington, a rematch of last season’s 27-23 loss that was decided by game-winning TD pass with only 1 second remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We just want to be mean,” Cole said. “We don’t want people to want to play Mariner. We want people to be like, ‘Shoot, we got Mariner coming up.’ That’s what we’re focused on.”