Lake Stevens quarterback Kolton Matson drops back to pass against Kennedy Catholic in the Class 4A state championship game Dec. 3, 2022, at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens quarterback Kolton Matson drops back to pass against Kennedy Catholic in the Class 4A state championship game Dec. 3, 2022, at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Wesco 4A football preview: Team capsules, coaches poll, and more

Defending state champion Lake Stevens is favored once again. Glacier Peak and Kamiak appear next in line.

COACHES POLL

The predicted order of finish, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Included is the average placing for each team, with the number of first-place votes in parentheses.

1. Lake Stevens (3) — 1

2. Glacier Peak (1) — 1.7

3. Kamiak — 2.5

4. Mariner — 3.3

5. Jackson — 4

NOTE: Coaches weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams. One coach chose not to participate in the voting.

LAKE STEVENS

Last season: 12-2 overall, 4-0 Wesco 4A; won 4A state championship

Coach: Tom Tri (19th season)

Offense: Spread

Defense: 4-2-5

Returning starters: 3 on offense, 6 on defense

Key players: Kolton Matson, jr., QB; Jayshon Limar, jr., RB/S; Bryce Slezak, sr., LT/DT; Mason Turner, sr., RT/MLB; Steven Lee Jr., sr., WR/DB; Gabe Kylany, sr., WR/S; Paul Varela, sr., WR/DB; David Brown, sr., WR/DB

Overview: After winning their first Class 4A state title and a ninth consecutive league championship last fall, the Vikings enter 2023 with a bevy of new starters on offense and just over half of their defense remaining intact. The offense features a dangerous junior duo in the backfield with quarterback Kolton Matson and running back Jayshon Limar, a three-star recruit according to 247sports.com. Three-year starting senior left tackle Bryce Slezak anchors the line, which is breaking in four new starters. The defense, which starred in last year’s state championship win, features a strong presence in the middle with 2022 tackles leader Mason Turner, a senior linebacker, leading the group. Fellow first-team all-league pick Steven Lee Jr., a senior defensive back, highlights what should be a strong unit on the back end. Limar, who missed most of last year with an injury, figures to factor in on defense, too. Lake Stevens’ schedule remains one of the toughest in the area, including matchups with 3A state powerhouse Bellevue, talent-loaded Garfield and defending Oregon 6A state champion West Linn. The young and athletic Vikings are once again favored to take home the Wesco 4A crown this fall.

Schedule

GLACIER PEAK

Glacier Peak’s Chrisvin Bonshe runs the ball against Ferndale on Sept. 17, 2022, at Lumen Field in Seattle. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Glacier Peak’s Chrisvin Bonshe runs the ball against Ferndale on Sept. 17, 2022, at Lumen Field in Seattle. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Last season: 7-3 overall, 3-1 Wesco 4A; advanced to Week 10 playoffs

Coach: Shane Keck (fifth season)

Offense: Power spread

Defense: 3-4

Returning starters: 3 on offense, 2 on defense

Key players: Chrisvin Bonshe, sr., RB/CB; Ben Williams, sr., WR/S; Dylan Healy, sr., WR/S; Owen Gluth, sr., WR/S; Jake Reid, sr., OL; Jackson Murphy, sr., OL; Brad Perman, sr., ILB; Connor Aney, jr., OL/DL; Lucas Entler, jr., QB

Overview: The Grizzlies spent the bulk of last season ranked in the state’s 4A top five in The Associated Press media poll and even spent an extended stretch with the No. 1 moniker, but Glacier Peak’s season came to an abrupt finish after an upset loss against Woodinville in the Week 10 playoffs. GP enters 2023 with a new look after graduating a talent-loaded senior class, which included a pair of Pac-12 recruits and one of the state’s top quarterbacks. The Grizzlies will still air it out at times on offense but figure to lean on a strong offensive line to lead the way for speedy senior running back Chrisvin Bonshe. The team returns two of its top tacklers on defense with senior safety Owen Gluth and senior linebacker Brad Perman in the mix. Junior two-way lineman Connor Aney, a state wrestling champion in the 285-pound weight class, figures to play a bigger role and brings an intriguing presence in the trenches. GP, which has made the Week 10 playoffs in every full-length season since joining Wesco 4A in 2016, figures to get tested early with non-league tilts versus Camas and at Ferndale.

Schedule

KAMIAK

The Kamiak offense runs through drills during a team practice Wednesday at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Kamiak offense runs through drills during a team practice Wednesday at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Last season: 3-7 overall, 2-2 Wesco 4A; advanced to Week 10 playoffs

Coach: Ivan McLennan (first season)

Offense: Wishbone

Defense: 4-4

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense

Key players: T’Andre Waverly, jr., ATH; Miles Moffett, sr., WR; Jullian “Tupu” Notoa, jr., RB/SS; Jay Scott Jr., jr., OL/DL; Michael Barton, sr., OL/DL; Journy “Lesa” Notoa, sr., OL; Simon Ross, sr., LB; Ashton Smiles, jr., ATH

Overview: The Knights’ recent rise hit a speed bump last fall with a rough start against a daunting non-league schedule leading to a three-win season after a 7-2 campaign in 2021. But Kamiak still managed to qualify for the Week 10 playoffs for the second straight season after knocking off rival Mariner in its season finale to claim third place in Wesco 4A. The Knights face the same challenging non-conference slate in 2023, which includes perennial 4A state playoff contenders Camas and Skyview, but the team feels more prepared to face the gauntlet this time around. Kamiak features the state’s top junior recruit in T’Andre Waverly, a four-star athlete who’s starred at tight end and defensive end. The team also welcomes back junior two-way lineman Jay Scott Jr. and seniors Lesa Notoa and Michael Barton to lead a strong group in the trenches. Junior running back Tupu Notoa is the league’s leading returning rusher. The Knights lead Wesco 4A with six all-league picks back this season.

Schedule

MARINER

Mariner linemen go through drills during practice Aug. 18, 2022, at Mariner High School in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Mariner linemen go through drills during practice Aug. 18, 2022, at Mariner High School in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Last season: 7-3 overall, 1-3 Wesco 4A

Coach: CJ Adkins (first season)

Offense: Spread

Defense: Multiple

Returning starters: 4 on offense, 4 on defense

Key players: Kipp Evans, sr., TE/LB; Kelvin Iaulualo, sr., LB/RB/S; Sam Lamas, sr., FB/DE; Karim Sy, sr., C/DE; Robert Galeana-Velazquez, sr., FB/LB; Robel Abraham, sr., LT/G

Overview: After graduating a massive senior class that helped the program to its most wins in a season since 2016, the Marauders enter 2023 with many fresh faces in line to get their first crack at varsity playing time. Mariner welcomes back four starters on each side of the ball to help lead the new group. The squad looks to lean on its offensive line, which is led by seniors Karim Sy and Robel Abraham. First-year head coach CJ Adkins said the youthful group features plenty of athletes with big-play ability. Adkins, an assistant last year, is the program’s third head coach over the past three seasons. Mariner finished fourth in the five-team league in 2021 and 2022.

Schedule

JACKSON

Jackson’s Edonyas Abebe hands the ball off during a game against Cascade on Sept. 23, 2022 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jackson’s Edonyas Abebe hands the ball off during a game against Cascade on Sept. 23, 2022 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Last season: 0-10 overall, 0-4 Wesco 4A

Coach: Mason Siddick (fifth season)

Offense: Spread

Defense: 4-3

Returning starters: 8 on offense, 9 on defense

Key players: Edonyas Abebe, jr., QB; Tyler Lykken, jr., RB/SS; Cole Trufant, sr., WR/CB; Will Turpin, jr., WR/CB; Samba Mbaye, jr., DE/OL; Haseeb Rassulli, jr., FB/LB; Jason Pham, jr., WR/SS; Sherod Earvin, sr., RB/CB

Overview: The Timberwolves enter the season with hopes of taking a step forward in competitiveness after an 0-10 campaign in 2022. Jackson hasn’t posted a winning season since 2016 and has gone winless in three of the past four years. The Timberwolves have hope and a new-found confidence this fall, though. Nearly all of the starters on offense and defense are back this season, and the team showed it has some punch over the summer when it took 4A power Bothell down to the wire at the Lakewood 7-on-7 tournament. Jackson is junior heavy and still relatively young despite all of the returning starters, but many of those underclassmen already have at least a year of varsity experience under their belt. The team is highlighted by an athletic receiver corps and an improving line on both sides of the ball.

Schedule

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Connor Aney, jr., OL/DL, Glacier Peak

Aney is a 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior two-way lineman who won the 4A 285-pound state wrestling title at Mat Classic XXXIV in February. He placed second in the same weight class as a freshman in 2021.

Chrisvin Bonshe, sr., RB, Glacier Peak 

Bonshe rushed for 632 yards and seven TDs and averaged 8.2 yards per carry while sharing duties at running back last fall. The 5-foot-10, 155-pound senior was an all-league honorable mention and takes over as the lead back this fall.

Owen Gluth, sr., WR/S, Glacier Peak

Gluth pulled down five interceptions and had one sack while earning second-team all-league honors on defense for the Grizzlies in 2022.

Steven Lee Jr., sr., WR/DB, Lake Stevens

Lee recorded 11 tackles for loss and an interception for the Vikings last season. He was a first team all-league and second-team All-Area selection.

Jayshon Limar, jr., RB/LB, Lake Stevens

Lake Stevens junior running back Jayshon Limar (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens junior running back Jayshon Limar (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Limar returns after an injury forced him to miss nearly all of last season. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior is a three-star recruit and the seventh overall prospect in the state for his class. He had 561 rushing yards and 12 TDs as a freshman in 2021.

Jullian ‘Tupu’ Notoa, jr., RB, Kamiak

Kamiak’s Jullian Notoa (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Kamiak’s Jullian Notoa (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Notoa ran for over 800 yards and eight touchdowns and added a receiving TD while earning a second-team all-league nod last fall.

Jay Scott Jr., jr., OL/DL, Kamiak

Scott was a first-team all-league defensive lineman and second-team all-league offensive lineman for the Knights last season. He’s the only returning Wesco 4A lineman to be named to both teams.

Bryce Slezak, sr., OL, Lake Stevens

Lake Stevens’ Bryce Slezak takes down the ball carrier for a tackle for loss against Bellevue Sept. 9, 2022, at Lake Stevens High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens’ Bryce Slezak takes down the ball carrier for a tackle for loss against Bellevue Sept. 9, 2022, at Lake Stevens High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Slezak is a three-year starter and two-star recruit. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior was an all-league honorable mention last season and a second-team all-league and All-Area pick as a sophomore.

Mason Turner, sr., LB, Lake Stevens

Turner led the Vikings in tackles and piled up 18 tackles for loss and three sacks last fall. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior was a first-team all-league and All-Area selection.

T’Andre Waverly, jr., ATH, Kamiak

Waverly is a four-star recruit and the top prospect in the state for the class of 2025. The versatile 6-foot-4, 220-pound playmaker hauled in 27 catches for 460 yards and seven TDs at tight end last season. Waverly, the No. 30 overall junior recruit in the country, was a first-team All-Area and first-team all-league pick. The two-sport star finished second in the 100 meters at the 4A state meet in May.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Will Lake Stevens extend reign of dominance with 10th consecutive league title?

The path to a Wesco 4A title goes through the Vikings. It’s as simple as that.

Lake Stevens has won a whopping nine straight conference titles, which doesn’t include an undefeated run through COVID-shortened spring season in 2021, and is the owner of a jaw-dropping 54-game conference winning streak that dates back to 2013. It’s been more than just wins during the run, it’s been utter dominance. The Vikings won 49 of those 54 games by double digits, 32 by at least 40 points and posted an average margin of victory of 40.5 points.

It doesn’t appear that Lake Stevens’ run will end any time soon. The team may in fact be an even bigger favorite to win the league this fall than it was entering its state championship campaign a year ago. The Vikings should be stellar on defense with many playmakers back to lead a unit which allowed just 27 total points in three league games (Lake Stevens won its fourth league game via forfeit). The offense is young and a bit inexperienced, but key pieces are back at some of the right positions (quarterback, running back, left tackle). Not to mention the program just seems to reload year in and year out. Additionally, top challenger Glacier Peak has just as much if not more to replace from a season ago, and next-in-line Kamiak still has much to prove after stumbling in 2022.

How does GP bounce back from another devastating season-ending loss?

The Grizzlies reached major program milestones the past two seasons, qualifying for the 4A state playoffs for the first time in 2021 and spending multiple weeks as the state’s top-ranked team in 2022. But each of those seasons finished in excruciating fashion. In 2021, GP built a 21-point lead in the second half of its 4A state playoff game against Bothell only to see it slip away in a crushing 49-35 loss. Then, last year’s highly anticipated showdown with Lake Stevens to decide the Wesco 4A title turned into a lopsided defeat and was followed by a stunning 22-19 loss to a sub.-500 Woodinville squad in the Week 10 playoffs.

The high turnover in the starting units could benefit the Grizzlies in terms of flushing those painful recent memories. GP is once again picked to be the top challenger to powerhouse Lake Stevens in the league’s coaches poll, which means it’s favored to be playing meanignful football in Week 10. There’s a different vibe around this group, too.

“I feel like this year, everyone is playing for the good of the team,” senior offensive lineman Jackson Murphy said. “The closeness of the players we have, it makes it a lot more fun to play and practice everyday knowing that someone’s got my back if something goes wrong, or there’s a maturity level that I know someone is gonna listen to me if there’s a problem going on.”

After step back last fall, will Kamiak’s ascension get back on track?

The Knights are owners of one of the area’s most significant program turnarounds in recent history. After going 7-32 from 2016-19, including a string of three straight one-win seasons and a 13-game losing streak, Kamiak stormed through the COVID-shortened spring season with a 4-0 record and won its first five games of 2021 en route to a 7-2 season and first Week 10 playoff berth in six years. The Knights even put a scare into Lake Stevens when they fell just short, 35-28, in a near-shocker.

Kamiak appeared poised to continue its breakout in 2022, but a step up in competition during its non-league schedule proved too much to handle. The Knights narrowly avoided an 0-6 start by beating Edmonds-Woodway in a Week 2 matchup decided by a missed extra point in the fourth quarter. Six of their losses last year came by four scores or more.

While it wasn’t the result they were hoping for, Kamiak’s returning players believe they can build off the lessons learned during a tough 2022. The talent appears to be there as well with six all-league returners who now have more big-game experience.

“We want to show all the other programs what Kamiak’s all about,” senior two-way lineman Michael Barton said.

GAMES TO WATCH

Garfield at Lake Stevens, Sept. 1, 7 p.m.

Lakes Stevens begins its 4A state title defense with a revenge game against Garfield. The Bulldogs feature a pair of University of California commits in top in-state senior quarterback EJ Caminong, a three-star recruit, and Federal Way-transfer Rahshawn Clark, a four-star athlete. Garfield handed the Vikings a 26-16 loss in last year’s season opener.

Glacier Peak at Snohomish, Sept. 1, 7 p.m.

New-look Glacier Peak looks to keep its dominance over crosstown rival Snohomish going in the Dick Armstrong Cup. The Grizzlies have won all 11 matchups in the rivalry, including a 42-13 triumph last season.

Camas at Glacier Peak, Sept. 8, 7 p.m.

Glacier Peak hosts 4A state power Camas in a rematch of the Grizzlies’ thrilling 34-28 victory from last fall. It’s a measuring-stick game for Glacier Peak after graduating a bevy of talented seniors from last season’s squad.

Lake Stevens at Bellevue, Sept. 8, 7 p.m.

State powerhouses collide when defending 4A state champion Lake Stevens and 3A semifinalist Bellevue meet in Week 2. The Vikings hope to replicate their performance from a season ago, a 37-28 victory over the Wolverines and their well-oiled Wing-T offense.

Kamiak at Monroe, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.

Kamiak ends a run of three straight non-league contests against Wesco 3A contenders with a major test versus defending Wesco 3A South champion and state qualifier Monroe. Two of the area’s top recruits will be on the field in four-star Kamiak junior athlete T’Andre Waverly and three-star Monroe senior quarterback Blake Springer.

Glacier Peak at Ferndale, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.

A tough non-league slate for Glacier Peak continues with a trip north to take on defending Wesco 3A North champion and state quarterfinalist Ferndale. The Grizzlies ran away with a 42-14 victory when these team’s met last season as part of a showcase at Lumen Field.

West Linn (Oregon) at Lake Stevens, Sept. 22, 7 p.m.

Big-school state champions square off as Oregon 6A title-winner West Linn makes the trek to Snohomish County to face Lake Stevens. The Vikings look to put together a much more competitive performance after a 45-6 trouncing at the hands of the Lions last fall.

Skyview at Kamiak, Sept. 23, 3 p.m.

Kamiak gets a crack at a strong Skyview program for the third consecutive season and looks to add a signature non-league win two weeks before an important Wesco 4A-opener versus Glacier Peak. The Storm have outscored the Knights 76-27 while winning the past two meetings, including ending Kamiak’s season in the 2021 Week 10 playoffs.

Lake Stevens at Eastlake, Oct. 6, 7 p.m.

Lake Stevens’ gauntlet of a non-league schedule concludes against 4A state qualifier Eastlake from the always-tough KingCo 4A. These programs are matching up for a third straight season. Lake Stevens won the previous two by a combined 86-44 margin.

Kamiak at Glacier Peak, Oct. 6, 7 p.m.

Wesco 4A action kicks off with an intriguing clash between teams hoping to challenge powerhouse Lake Stevens. The Grizzlies and Knights have finished second and third in the league, respectively, in each of the past two seasons. Glacier Peak won last year’s meeting 47-22.

Mariner at Kamiak, Oct. 27, 7 p.m.

Mukilteo School District rivals Mariner and Kamiak battle in the regular-season finale for both squads. Along with school district bragging rights, Week 10 playoff implications could be at stake. Kamiak has won the past three in this rivalry, including 21-7 win to clinch a Week 10 berth last fall.

Lake Stevens at Glacier Peak, Oct. 27, 7 p.m.

Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak meet in a season finale for the third consecutive time in what could be a third straight de facto Wesco 4A title game between the programs. The Vikings kept rolling in this matchup last year, turning a highly anticipated showdown into a 57-17 drubbing.

NOTE: Glacier Peak plays its home games at Veterans Memorial Stadium at Snohomish High School. Kamiak plays its home games at Goddard Stadium at Mariner High School.

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