LAKE STEVENS — Two years ago when David Brown was a sophomore wide receiver on the Lake Stevens High School football team, he spent most of the games watching from the sidelines. But he used that time constructively, studying every move star senior Drew Carter made.
Last year Paul Varela and Gabe Kylany had to channel the meaning of the word patience, when as juniors they watched a younger player getting reps ahead of them in the H receiver position.
Steven Lee Jr. didn’t even bother trying to play offense the previous two years, choosing instead to concentrate on defense because of the vast amount of talent the Vikings had at receiver.
Indeed, this year’s senior-heavy receiver group at Lake Stevens had to wait its turn before getting its chance in the spotlight. But that group, which was unheralded when the season began, has turned into the deepest set of receivers the Vikings have had during the Tom Tri era.
Lake Stevens plays host to Kennedy Catholic in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Lake Stevens High School, and the receivers played an important part in the Vikings reaching this point.
“There’s not really one person we’re relying on,” Brown said. “We’re not always throwing to one side. You’re going to have to cover the entire field if you’re going to stop us passing.”
Lake Stevens’ receiver group was a mystery coming into the season. The top two receivers from last year’s state championship team, Isaac Redford and Cole Becker, graduated, and the No. 3 guy Cassidy Bolong-Banks transferred to Cascade. The top returning receiver was Brown, who had just nine catches last season.
But this year the Vikings have seven receivers, six of whom are seniors, who have made meaningful contributions. Brown (41 catches for 675 yards), whose nickname is Boogie because of the way his jukes looked like dance moves when he was a youth player, may be the headliner because of his 16 touchdown catches. But Paul Varela (40 catches for 418 yards) has nearly matched Brown for catches, while twin brothers Jesse and Jaxson Lewis, Steven Lee Jr. and Keagan Howard (the only junior in the group) all have between 16 and 19 catches for between 336 and 238 yards. Add in blocking specialist Gabe Kylany and that’s seven receivers who regularly rotate in for Lake Stevens.
“We’ve had some great receiver groups, we really have,” said Tri, who’s in his 19th season. “But pound for pound depth wise, it’s the deepest and most balanced group we’ve had since I’ve been here.
“As a play caller I don’t really look at who’s out there in the position, I’m just calling the play based on the defense I see,” Tri added. “In years past I had to be a little bit more careful about doing those things because I was trying to set one or two of our guys up. But this year we have interchangeable parts, and I have total and complete confidence in each one of those guys that they’ll go out there and make the play if given the opportunity.”
Having what amounts to seven starters makes for a versatile group where players have different styles and characteristics, ranging from the 6-foot-3 Brown to the 5-foot-7 Varela. Here’s their scouting report on one another:
“Boogie Brown (who plays X receiver) gets down there and gets open, he knows how to find the hole and score,” Varela said.
“Paul Varela is kind of like our little gadget player,” Lee said. “We can put him anywhere and get him the ball in space, he’s a very shifty guy.”
“Our two Z receivers Steven and Jesse, they’re very athletic and they’re going to go make a play,” Brown said. “Jesse’s hands and route running are nice, and Steven will go up and get the ball no matter where (quarterback Kolton Matson) puts it.”
“Jaxson and Keagan (who play Y receiver), they really are those big bodies that can catch anything and take a hit,” Kylany said.
“Gabe Kylany is a great blocker, and he’s really a leader in our group,” Lee said.
The fact that all of them had been a part of the Vikings program for a long time, yet other than Brown hadn’t seen meaningful time at receiver, gave them a mentality that they had something to prove.
“We only had one returning starter in our receiving corps and that was David Brown,” Jesse Lewis said. “But the rest of us, Steven didn’t play receiver until this season, I had to wait my turn, all the rest of these guys didn’t really play last year, so we all had to step it up as seniors.”
“They handled it really well,” Tri said about their patience. “Especially today, with instant gratification. Look at the NCAA level, kids are transferring left and right and going into the portal so they can play right away. You don’t really have those options in high school, but maybe they do a different sport or lose interest in football. That hasn’t been the case at all. These guys are hungry, they want to perform, they want to succeed and do the things it’s going to take to be successful, and that’s why they’ve had the type of year they’ve had. They’ve waited their turn, worked really hard in the offseason, and they’ve really turned into a wonderful well-balanced group of receivers.”