Highly touted receiver Cooper Jensen and Glacier Peak aim to challenge perennial power Lake Stevens for the Wesco 4A crown. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Highly touted receiver Cooper Jensen and Glacier Peak aim to challenge perennial power Lake Stevens for the Wesco 4A crown. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Wesco 4A high school football preview

The coaches poll, the favorite, the contender, 3 things to know, players to watch and games to watch.

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 (4) — 1.0

2. Glacier Peak (1) — 1.8

3. Kamiak — 2.5

4. Mariner — 3.5

5. Jackson — 3.8

NOTE: Coaches weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams.

FAVORITE

Jayden Limar and the Vikings have their eyes set on an eighth consecutive Wesco 4A title. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jayden Limar and the Vikings have their eyes set on an eighth consecutive Wesco 4A title. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lake Stevens

Seven-time defending Wesco 4A champion Lake Stevens is once again the odds-on favorite to claim the league title. The Vikings return just three starters on offense and four on defense from last season’s team, which rolled to a 5-0 record this spring while outscoring opponents by 22.2 points per game. But like an elite college program, Lake Stevens always seems to reload with more talent.

The Vikings bring back a pair of two-way standout college recruits in senior receiver/defensive back Drew Carter and junior running back/linebacker Jayden Limar — the latter of whom is considered one of the nation’s top running backs in his class. Also returning is senior Trayce Hanks, who is a shutdown cornerback on defense and a potential breakout player on offense after moving from running back to slot receiver. And 6-foot-5 senior Grayson Murren, who replaces standout Tanner Jellison at quarterback, appears poised to continue Lake Stevens’ tradition of strong signal callers.

The Vikings showcased their talent this summer by winning the prestigious Lakewood 7-on-7 passing tournament. They will have to wait a few weeks to kick off their season, as a result of COVID-19 cases in their program the led to the suspension of team activities and the cancellation of their first two games. But when the team returns to action this fall, expect Lake Stevens to once again establish itself as a Class 4A state title contender.

CONTENDER

Jadon Claps and the Grizzlies are seeking to break through for the program’s first 4A state berth. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jadon Claps and the Grizzlies are seeking to break through for the program’s first 4A state berth. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Glacier Peak

Glacier Peak has yet to reach the state playoffs since moving up to the 4A level in 2016. Could this be the year it breaks through? The Grizzlies return about half of their starters on both sides of the ball from this spring, when they went 4-1 with an impressive slate of blowout wins over Marysville Pilchuck, Snohomish, Archbishop Murphy and Monroe. Their only loss was to perennial power Lake Stevens, which turned a competitive seven-point game into a runaway 63-35 victory with 28 consecutive points in the fourth quarter.

Glacier Peak has some key players to replace, with the most notable being star running back and reigning Herald player of the year Ryan Black. But there’s also a strong crop of returning talent. Highly touted junior Cooper Jensen and Snohomish junior transfer Trey Leckner headline an array of big receiving targets. Senior center Jacob Erickson anchors an offensive line that returns four of five starters. Senior Caleb Koffler and junior River Lien — who finished second in the underclassman division of the Northwest 9 Showcase quarterback competition earlier this month — are both quality options to replace standout Tyson Lang under center. And senior linebacker Michael Fant highlights a stout defense that brings back five starters.

The pieces certainly appear to be in place for the Grizzlies to contend for their first-ever 4A state playoff berth. And perhaps, they might just have what it takes to challenge Lake Stevens for the Wesco 4A crown.

3 THINGS TO KNOW

Wesley Garrett leads a Kamiak team that’s looking to build on a 4-0 spring season. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Wesley Garrett leads a Kamiak team that’s looking to build on a 4-0 spring season. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Wesco 4A has a new look as a five-team league

Wesco 4A is now a five-team league after former members Cascade, Monroe and Mount Vernon moved down to 3A in the recent statewide reclassification. That means Wesco 4A teams now have just four league games and five non-league games — instead of seven league games and two non-league games, as they did in years past. Under the new setup, the top three teams in Wesco 4A advance to the winner-to-state Week 10 playoffs. With perennial power Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak being Wesco 4A’s clear-cut top two teams, it figures to be a three-way battle between Kamiak, Mariner and Jackson for the league’s final postseason berth.

Lake Stevens’ dominance by the numbers

Here are some numbers that put into perspective just how dominant Lake Stevens has been for the better part of the past decade. The Vikings have won seven consecutive Wesco 4A titles. They have 46 consecutive wins over Wesco 4A opponents, with their last conference loss coming in 2013 against Mount Vernon. Since that loss, they have outscored Wesco 4A teams by 40.3 points per game. And during their 46-game conference win streak, they’ve won 43 games by double digits and 40 games by 20-plus points. Lake Stevens also has been a major force at the state level, having advanced to eight of the past nine 4A state playoffs — including five trips to the state quarterfinals, three to the state semifinals and a state championship game appearance in 2018.

Kamiak looks to build on spring success

After three consecutive one-win seasons, Kamiak made a big jump this spring in coach Bryant Thomas’ third year at the helm. Facing a competitively balanced schedule, the Knights went 4-0 against Everett, Mariner, Jackson and Cascade. Kamiak outscored opponents by 28.5 points per game and won every contest by at least 17 points. And with seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense, the Knights are looking to carry their success into this fall. Kamiak returns senior all-purpose standout Wesley Garrett and expects to lean on its offensive and defensive lines, with most of its starters coming back in the trenches. The Knights are the favorite to earn Wesco 4A’s third and final postseason berth behind Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Drew Carter (left) is a two-way standout for Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Drew Carter (left) is a two-way standout for Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Drew Carter, sr., WR/DB, Lake Stevens

The two-way standout caught 25 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns in this spring’s abbreviated season, while also totaling two interceptions, two forced fumbles and five tackles for loss on defense. The three-star athlete has offers from Air Force and Eastern Washington and is the No. 33 senior recruit in the state, according to 247Sports.

Jadon Claps, sr., WR/DB, Glacier Peak

Claps intercepted three passes last season. He also had eight catches for 132 yards and two TDs on offense.

Austin Emmons, sr., OL/DL, Glacier Peak

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound lineman is a two-star offensive tackle and the No. 101 senior recruit in the state, according to 247Sports.

Jacob Erickson, sr., OL/DL, Glacier Peak

Erickson, a three-year starting offensive lineman, anchors the Grizzlies up front. The senior center is one of four returning starters on the offensive line.

Michael Fant, sr., LB, Glacier Peak

Fant anchors a strong defense that returns five starters. He had 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and a pass breakup last season.

Wesley Garrett, sr., WR/DB, Kamiak

Garrett is an all-around weapon for the Knights. He totaled 466 yards from scrimmage and five offensive TDs in just four games last season, including 328 yards rushing at an average of 12.1 yards per carry. He also excelled on special teams, returning two punts for scores. Garrett is a two-star athlete and the No. 65 senior recruit in the state, according to 247Sports.

Trayce Hanks, sr., WR/DB, Lake Stevens

After moving from running back to slot receiver, Hanks figures to take on a major role in the Vikings’ high-powered offense. Last season, he rushed for 188 yards and two TDs as the team’s third-string running back. And on defense, he’s described as a “shutdown corner” by coach Tom Tri.

Cooper Jensen, jr., WR/DL, Glacier Peak

The 6-foot-5, 210-pound receiver already has offers from Tennessee, Arizona and Oregon State. Projected as a tight end in college, Jensen is the No. 11 junior recruit in the state and the No. 24 junior tight end in the nation, according to 247Sports. The three-star recruit caught 13 passes for 158 yards and four TDs last season.

Trey Leckner, jr., WR/LB, Glacier Peak

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound transfer from crosstown rival Snohomish is one of several other big receiving targets for the Grizzlies. Leckner led the Panthers last season with 15 catches for 287 yards and five TDs.

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

The four-star running back already has offers from big-time programs such as Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas A&M, USC and Washington. He is the No. 6 overall junior recruit in the state and the No. 7 junior running back in the nation, according to 247Sports. Limar totaled 646 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs last season, while averaging a whopping 11.7 yards per carry. He did most of his damage after taking over as the primary back in Week 3, amassing 520 scrimmage yards and nine total TDs over the final three games.

Grayson Murren, sr., QB, Lake Stevens

After backing up standout quarterback Tanner Jellison the past two seasons, Murren takes the reins of the Vikings’ high-powered offense. The 6-foot-5 senior — described by his coach as accurate, athletic and smart — appears poised to continue Lake Stevens’ tradition of strong quarterback play.

James Yoon, sr., K/P, Jackson

Yoon is a two-star recruit at kicker, according to 247Sports. In his lone field-goal attempt last season, he hit a 44-yard game-winner as time expired to beat Everett in the season finale.

GAMES TO WATCH

The Wesco 4A title is expected to come down to the regular-season finale between Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Wesco 4A title is expected to come down to the regular-season finale between Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Glacier Peak at Snohomish, Sept. 3, 7 p.m.

The Grizzlies look to continue their mastery of crosstown rival Snohomish in this season-opening non-league clash. Glacier Peak has won all nine matchups since these schools began playing in 2012, including a 35-10 victory this spring.

Glacier Peak at Monroe, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.

The former Wesco 4A rivals square off in a Week 2 non-league matchup. Monroe won three of the teams’ four matchups as Wesco 4A foes, but Glacier Peak steamrolled to a 63-21 win this spring.

Glacier Peak vs. Woodinville at Pop Keeney Stadium (Bothell), Sept. 16, 6 p.m.

This non-league clash is a chance for the Grizzlies to test themselves against one of the premier 4A programs in the state. Woodinville has made five consecutive 4A state quarterfinal appearances, including three consecutive trips to the state semifinals.

Lake Stevens vs. O’Dea at Memorial Stadium (Seattle), Sept. 17, 5 p.m.

After the Vikings’ first two games were canceled as a result of COVID-19 cases within their program, this non-league showdown of perennial state powers is now their season opener. O’Dea has played in four consecutive 3A state title games and won a state championship in 2017.

Marysville Pilchuck vs. Glacier Peak at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Sept. 24, 7 p.m.

This non-league matchup features two of the top programs in Snohomish County. Defending Wesco 3A champion Marysville Pilchuck reached the 3A state quarterfinals in 2019 and seems capable of making another run this fall. It will be a rematch of Glacier Peak’s 35-7 win this spring.

Archbishop Murphy at Lake Stevens, Sept. 24, 7 p.m.

Lake Stevens won 26-7 this spring in the first-ever matchup between the 4A state powerhouse Vikings and the 2A state powerhouse Wildcats. They square off again this fall in a non-league clash of programs hoping to make deep runs in their respective state playoffs.

Lake Stevens at Snohomish, Oct. 1, 7 p.m.

The Vikings close their non-league slate against two-time defending Wesco 3A South champion Snohomish. Lake Stevens won 41-24 in their meeting this spring.

Mariner vs. Kamiak at Goddard Stadium, Oct. 15, 7 p.m.

This matchup of Mukilteo School District rivals could go a long way to determining Wesco 4A’s third and final Week 10 playoff berth. Kamiak beat Mariner 35-18 this spring, ending a five-game losing streak to the Marauders.

North Creek vs. Glacier Peak at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Oct. 15, 7 p.m.

This non-league clash is another measuring stick for the Grizzlies against a quality KingCo 4A program. North Creek, entering its fifth year of existence, went 6-3 in 2019 and has quickly emerged as one of the better 4A programs in the area.

Lake Stevens vs. Glacier Peak at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.

This regular-season finale is expected to be a de facto Wesco 4A championship game. Lake Stevens has won all five matchups since Glacier Peak moved up to 4A in 2016, including a 63-35 runaway victory in this spring’s season-finale showdown of unbeatens. The Grizzlies trailed by just seven points entering the fourth quarter of that game, but the Vikings then rattled off 28 consecutive points to pull away.

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