BOTHELL — Winning the first three games of a season is a good accomplishment for any football team.
But for Lynnwood High School, it would be an unprecedented accomplishment in the lifetimes of every player in the program. Not since 1996 has Lynnwood opened the season with three consecutive victories, which the Royals will do if they beat Shorewood Friday in a 5 p.m. game at Edmonds District Stadium.
Lynnwood, which has endured more losing over the past two decades than most teams in the state (including a woeful 13-123 record from 2000-13), is also seeking its first playoff season since 1995. And for those who follow high school football in Snohomish County, it is hard not to pull for the resurgent Royals.
The man responsible for the turnabout is third-year head coach Keauntea Bankhead (he was the team’s co-head coach in 2013 and an assistant in 2012). The Royals went 2-8 in 2013, improved to 4-6 the next season and were 6-4 a year ago. In his three-plus seasons as co-head coach and head coach, Lynnwood has already won more games than in the previous 13 seasons combined.
Though he understands the program’s sad history, “I try not to bring it up to (the players) a lot,” Bankhead said. “We want to focus on what we’re doing now. But it’s also important to know where this school came from and that we’re starting something different here.”
Three of Bankhead’s assistant coaches were once Lynnwood football players, including one who never won a game in four seasons and another who won only once. For those men, what the Royals are doing now “is huge,” he said. “Just being a part of this and seeing the change from what it was when they played to what it is now.”
The Royals are winning for two primary reasons. No. 1 is coaching continuity, following a stretch from 2000-2012 when Lynnwood had eight different head coaches prior to Bankhead. No. 2 is an influx of talented players willing to embrace hard work, which begins every year with a vigorous offseason regimen.
One of those players is quarterback Alton Hammond, a 5-foot-8, 210-pound senior who converted to QB from running back last season. Hammond had three rushing touchdowns and three passing touchdowns in a 56-20 win over Ballard in the season opener, and three rushing TDs and one passing TD in a 35-10 Week 2 victory against Marysville Pilchuck.
“Without Alton, it’d be like driving a car without the engine,” Bankhead said. “He’s our quarterback, a captain, and he touches the ball on every play. He’s definitely a huge part of this program and in the success of this football team.
“He’s one of those players you get once every blue moon. When he takes off (with the ball) you kind of hold your breath. It’s like, ‘What’s he going to do now?’ It’s very exciting to watch.”
Other key players are Ryley Johnson and Delaun Smiley-Tatum, both senior wide receivers and defensive backs; senior fullback/linebacker Michael Kirkman; senior offensive/defensive lineman Jacob Laban; and senior offensive lineman/linebacker Harris Cutuk.
For everyone in the program, and certainly for all the seniors, a foremost goal has been the birth of a new legacy at Lynnwood. It is, Hammond said, “probably the No. 1 thing that’s most important to us.”
And nothing would instill a new sense of pride more than a trip to the postseason, which is something no Lynnwood football team has done since 1995.
“I would give anything to go to the playoffs,” Hammond said. “That would mean the world to me. Where we started at 2-8 (in 2013) and then finishing in the playoffs as seniors, that would be a great story. And I’d give anything for that.”
As for Bankhead and his staff, one of the big rewards has been seeing the program’s rise in attitude and expectations.
In the past, he pointed out, “there was a coach one year and then he’d be done, and a coach for two years and then he’d be done. And when you get coaches who are in and out, the kids are not really motivated. They don’t trust you.”
But for these players, he said, “I think they’ve seen consistency in me and in all the coaches. They know that Coach Bankhead is in this for the long haul and that they can trust him. They’re buying in, they’re motivated and they’re understanding what it takes to be winners.”