Snohomish’s Keegan Stich (far right) awaits the snap during practice Monday afternoon at Snohomish High School. Stich and the Panthers are hoping to return to the postseason in 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Snohomish’s Keegan Stich (far right) awaits the snap during practice Monday afternoon at Snohomish High School. Stich and the Panthers are hoping to return to the postseason in 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Snohomish High standout a touchdown threat on every touch

At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, with a combination of explosiveness and agility that allows him to make quick, fluid cuts, Snohomish running back Keegan Stich certainly passes the eye test with the ball in his hands.

Even with all the physical tools Stich possesses, perhaps the biggest things the 2016 first-team All-Wesco 3A South selection brings to the Panthers this season are a confidence and swagger that’s already rubbing off on his young teammates. That’s important because Snohomish has to replace eight All-Wesco first- and second-team selections from a year ago.

“He runs with a purpose, and I think in his mind he believes every time he touches the ball he’s gonna score,” Panthers head coach Kai Smalley said of Stich. “That confidence carries over to our other kids. You can see it in how he plays and how the kids react to that on the field.”

For a preview of the Wesco 3A South, click here.

Stich — who ran for 2,095 yards and 29 touchdowns and averaged 9.3 yards per carry last fall — combines his physical talents with an ability to see the field that Smalley raves about.

“He does a great job with his vision. Not just using his blockers, but setting up his blocks and also looking down the field,” Smalley said. “A lot of running backs are looking at what’s their next move gonna be to get past the linebackers. It almost looks like he’s already looking to set up what he’s going to do to get past the safeties.”

That’s a trait the star running back seems to come by naturally.

“From the beginning I’ve just had this vision,” Stich said. “I run the ball and people are like, ‘How did you do that?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I just did. It just comes natural.’”

With his ability to see the field, it’s not surprising Stich has been carrying the football since his first season as a third-grader. He was good enough as an eighth-grader to grab Smalley’s attention, which led to Stich being considered for a spot on the varsity as a freshman.

When Stich first found out he was getting looked at as a potential varsity player, he was “shell-shocked.”

Still, he made the most of the opportunity. He made the varsity and has been a fixture in Snohomish’s offense and on special teams ever since. He’s scored 64 total touchdowns in his three seasons and has contributed on defense, playing outside linebacker. This season, he’ll move to safety.

The attention and respect Stich gets from opposing defenses should help ease the transition for the Panthers, who are breaking in a new starting quarterback this season.

“It’s really easy to lean on him to take some of the pressure off us,” said junior quarterback Langdon Orgill, who won the starting job in the preseason. “He’s so explosive with the ball in his hands. Really any time we give him the ball, he has a chance to score.”

In addition to his production on the field, Stich is being asked to take on a bigger leadership role this season, which is something the soft-spoken running back is ready to embrace.

“I’ve been definitely getting out of my comfort zone and getting more vocal with guys,” Stich said.

That effort has been noticed by his teammates.

“I think he realized it’s his senior season,” Orgill said. “It’s his team, there’s no more older guys … he’s the guy now.”

While getting more comfortable as a vocal leader may be a challenge for Stich, leading by example certainly won’t be. Smalley said Stich is a hard worker in the weight room and even impressed some college coaches with his work when they came in to see him.

“Seeing a senior in there working that hard means a lot to those younger kids to know that’s what it’s going to take to get there,” Smalley said.

Stitch spent time in the offseason attending camps at different universities, including being named running backs MVP at Eastern Washington University’s camp.

So far, Stich has garnered recruiting interest from several Big Sky schools, including Montana, Montana State and Portland State.

“He’s getting looks,” Smalley said, “and we’re excited about that.”

Wesco 3A South team capsules.

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