Lake Stevens’ Cassidy Bolong-Banks had over 800 yards and eight TDs on offense last season. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens’ Cassidy Bolong-Banks had over 800 yards and eight TDs on offense last season. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Prep football returns: 5 storylines to watch as practice begins

A look at some intriguing questions as local high school football practices kick off Wednesday.

High school football is back.

Teams across the state hit the field Wednesday for first day of practices for the 2023 season. Week 1 action kicks off Friday, Sept. 1.

The Herald will delve into each local league in its upcoming season previews. But as practices begin, here’s a look at five storylines to watch this season:

Can Lake Stevens do it again?

After coming oh-so-close in recent years, the Vikings cemented their dynasty with their first state title last fall. Can the reigning Class 4A champions defend their crown? It’s a tremendously difficult task, but if any program can get it done, it’s Lake Stevens. The Vikings have reached three of the past four state championship games and have earned eight consecutive state berths, reaching the quarterfinals six times and the semifinals four times. And they’ve been the untouchable gatekeepers of Wesco 4A along the way, racking up 54 consecutive wins in league play and nine straight league titles.

Like many teams, Lake Stevens has some major holes to fill from a year ago. The graduation of star running back and Gatorade Washington State Player of the Year Jayden Limar, and impact two-way players like Isaac Redford, Cole Becker and Ashten Hendrickson, among others, means their will be plenty of new faces on the field for the Vikings. But Lake Stevens just seems to reload year after year.

The Vikings welcome back starting quarterback Kolton Matson, a junior who elevated his play down the stretch of the team’s title run. Their answer to replacing Jayden Limar seems about as good as any — younger brother Jayshon, a three-star junior recruit who’s returning after missing nearly all of last season with an injury. Add in returning All-Area defenders linebacker Mason Turner and defensive back Steven Lee Jr., and three-year starting offensive lineman Bryce Slezak, and Lake Stevens already appears to have a formidable core ready to lead a deep run in November.

It could be a wild race in Wesco 3A North

Stanwood’s Max Mayo nabbed four interceptions last season. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Stanwood’s Max Mayo nabbed four interceptions last season. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Who’s the favorite in Wesco 3A North? Some may say Stanwood. Others Ferndale or Arlington. The top of the league looks wide open this year with each of the preseason title hopefuls having reasons for belief in a title run but also questions about how they’ll get there.

Stanwood hopes to continue its meteoric rise in the league. After years of being an afterthought, the Spartans enter a second consecutive season as a legit title contender and are in search of a third straight state berth. The program has won 15 of its past 19 games and is coming off a 3A state quarterfinal appearance. Stanwood has a lot to replace from last season after graduating a slew of seniors who helped turn the team around, including two-way star Bumgarner.

Ferndale is the defending league champion and is also coming off a state quarterfinal appearance. Similarly, the Golden Eagles graduated plenty of major pieces from 2022, including a pair Pac-12 recruits and one of the state’s most prolific pass rushers. Ferndale is 29-7 in league play with three conference titles since joining Wesco as a football-only member in 2016.

Arlington avoided taking a step back last fall by winning seven games with just five combined starters back from both sides of the ball. The Eagles are slated to return a league-high six all-conference selections, which includes two capable quarterbacks and members of the receiving corps and offensive and defensive lines. The Eagles just need to see some improvements against top teams this fall. Arlington went 7-0 against teams at .500 or below but 0-3 against teams with winning records last season.

Can anybody is Wesco 3A South keep up with Monroe?

Monroe’s Blake Springer racked up 25 TD passes last season. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Monroe’s Blake Springer racked up 25 TD passes last season. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

When it came to Wesco 3A South action last season, there was simply no stopping the Bearcats. Monroe posted an outlandish 51 points per game on its way to an unbeaten 6-0 mark in league play last fall. The team scored 48 or more points in five league games and broke the 60-point barrier twice. There’s no signs that the Bearcats are slowing down either.

Monroe returns standout senior quarterback Blake Springer, a three-star recruit who totaled over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns through the air last season. Also back to lead the high-octane attack are versatile running back Beau Pruett, who amassed over 1,400 yards and 21 TDs on offense, and speedy receiver Mason Davis, who set a school record with five kickoff return TDs to go with over 600 yards and six TDs on offense. It may seem implausible, but the Bearcats could be even more explosive on offense this season.

So, can anyone in Wesco 3A South hold pace with Monroe? Edmonds-Woodway looks like the best bet. The Warriors feature their own dangerous array of playmakers on offense, led by 2,000-yard passer Steven Warren Jr., a two-star recruit. Four of his five top targets last season were non-seniors, including the speedy duo of Jesse Hart III and Diego Escandon. The pair combined for 1,310 yards and 10 TDs receiving last season.

New, familiar faces in new places

Mark Stewart is the new head coach at Everett High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Mark Stewart is the new head coach at Everett High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The offseason saw a massive amount of coaching turnover with seven different area teams undergoing a change in leadership. The new crop of hires brings a mixture of youth, experience and fresh and familiar faces.

Lakewood saw one of the longest tenured coaches in the area step down. Dan Teeter led the Cougars to three state playoff berths over 17 seasons from 2006-2022. Adam McShane, a 2015 Blaine grad, takes over the reins for the Cougars. He spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach at White River and takes over a squad looking to rebuild in the rugged Northwest 2A Conference. The Cougars’ main nemesis in recent years, Archbishop Murphy, has a new coach of its own. Joe Cronin, an Everett alum, is replacing Josh Jansen, who led the Wildcats the past two seasons. Cronin most recently served as the defensive coordinator and associate head coach at 3A juggernaut O’Dea and holds a successful two year-stint as head coach of Cascade under his belt, leading the Bruins to a 14-7 record and a 4A state playoff berth over two seasons from 2012-13. The Wildcats, who are coming off a winless campaign, are also trying to refind their footing in Northwest 2A.

Another school tapping a former area coach was Everett, which hired former Meadowdale and Mariner head coach Mark Stewart. The Seagulls spent the past four seasons under the leadership of longtime boys wrestling coach Brien Elliot. Stewart, an All-American linebacker at the University of Washington and former NFL player, has an extensive high school coaching resume, including stops at Garfield, Mercer Island, Highline and Renton. He also coached for the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League.

Mukilteo School District rivals Kamiak and Mariner each dipped into their own coaching staffs to find new leaders. After taking Kamiak from back-to-back one-win seasons to back-to-back Week 10 playoff appearances, Bryant Thomas ended his five-year tenure with the Knights to accept an assistant coach position at Portland State University. Ivan McLennan, a former Washington State University linebacker who spent two seasons as an assistant under Thomas, is the new top man for the Knights. CJ Adkins has taken over the reins at Mariner. He spent last season as an assistant under first-year coach Tyler Tuiasosopo, who led the Marauders to a 7-3 season before leaving for a head coaching job at Mater Academy East in Las Vegas.

Lynnwood has a new head coach for the first time in nearly a decade. Longtime assistant David Harris, a Lynnwood alum, has taken over for Keauntea Bankhead, who spent the past nine seasons with the program. At Meadowdale, Dustin McGee now leads the Mavericks. He replaces four-year head coach James Harmon. McGee, an Arkansas native, was the head coach at Centralia last season and his previous stops include an 8-man state title at Ezell-Harding in Tennessee.

Who shines brightest among talented signal-callers?

Edmonds-Woodway’s Steven Warren Jr. threw for over 2,000 yards last season. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Edmonds-Woodway’s Steven Warren Jr. threw for over 2,000 yards last season. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Running backs in the area have largely stolen the show offensively the past few years with the likes of Marysville Pilchuck’s Dylan Carson, Lake Stevens’ Jayden Limar and Stanwood’s Ryder Bumgarner putting together unforgettable seasons. There’s a solid crop or returning rushers in the area again this fall, but a majority of this year’s most potent offenses on paper are led by standout quarterbacks.

Aforementioned Monroe, which led the area in points per game in 2022, boasts three-star senior Springer. The Bearcats’ top challenger in Wesco 3A South, Edmonds-Woodway, has two-star senior Warren Both threw for over 2,000 yards a season ago. Defending 4A state champion Lake Stevens, which averaged 41.3 points, has a rising star in Matson. The 6-foot-2 junior threw for 1,724 yards and 17 TDs last season. Then there’s Arlington, which seems to have two strong options at quarterback. Senior Jacoby Falor and junior Leyton Martin split time at QB for the Eagles last fall, combining for over 1,800 yards and 23 TDs passing. Both are dual-threat options.

Another name to look out for: Kaden LaPlaunt. He split time with Matson at quarterback early last season as a junior for Lake Stevens and is now at 1A Granite Falls.

Up to nine other teams return their starter this season. In total, seven of the area’s top 10 passers in terms of yardage in 2022 were non-seniors.

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