Devin Kylany had long been targeting a possible late-season return.
It became a reality last week.
After receiving final clearance from his doctor a few days prior, the Washington State University-bound left tackle made his season debut last Saturday in the Lake Stevens High School football team’s Class 4A first-round state playoff game against Union.
It capped a long journey back to the field for Kylany, who had been sidelined all season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in February’s state wrestling tournament.
“I’m beyond thankful,” Kylany said following the Vikings’ 28-21 win over Union. “I mean, you never know what the doctors are going to say, but he said I was all good to play and now I’m back out here. I had some unfinished business. When you start something, you have to finish it.”
Though the offensive line had been a strength all season on this talent-laden Lake Stevens team, Kylany’s return provided an extra boost and made an immediate impact in Saturday’s state opener.
The Vikings (11-0) typically sport a balanced offensive attack, dispersing the ball to their vast array of talented playmakers while keeping defenses off-balance with a lethal mix of run and pass. That recipe has led to plenty of success this season, with Lake Stevens averaging 54.5 points per game.
But with their 6-foot-5, 290-pound left tackle back in the fold Saturday, the Vikings leaned heavily on their high-powered rushing attack.
Senior running back Dallas Landeros ran behind Kylany and the rest of Lake Stevens’ bruising group of lane-clearers all afternoon, churning out 276 yards and two touchdowns on a whopping 41 carries. The Vikings finished with 47 rushes and just 12 pass attempts.
“It changed our whole game plan,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said of Kylany’s return. “We went from being super balanced and running and throwing the ball all over the place to, ‘Hey, we’re going to grind today. We’re going to (run) behind our seniors.’ … That’s why I’m giving so much credit to our O-line, because that really was the difference-maker in the game.”
Tri said the run-heavy approach also stemmed from Union’s defensive alignment.
“They had five guys in the box most of the game,” he said. “We’ve always told our guys, ‘Hey, five in the box, we’re going to run the ball.’ … When you’re having success running the ball and you see the movement and the physicality on the line of scrimmage, … (it was like), ‘Let’s just keep going until they stop it.’”
Kylany, the fourth-ranked senior offensive lineman in the state according to 247Sports, is one of four returning seniors from a dominant offensive line that helped lead Lake Stevens to the 4A state title game last year.
Kylany’s injury left an irreplaceable void on the Vikings’ line this season, but the rest of the unit stepped up in his absence. Even without its Pac-12-bound left tackle, Lake Stevens averaged 8.6 yards per carry and 253 yards rushing per game over the first 10 weeks of the season.
The senior trio of three-star left guard Logan Bruce, four-year starting center Wyatt Hall and second-year starting right guard Austyn Rembold-Hyde anchored the middle of the line. Cameron Hunter, a junior, replaced Kylany at left tackle. And after presumptive starting right tackle Colt Spiegel tore his ACL just prior to the season, Nick Wiskow-Holmes and Kaullen Blunt filled in to man that spot.
“We went through some growing pains and there were some things that we didn’t maybe do that we might have (done if) we had a little more depth,” Tri said. “But I was super proud of all of our tackles for stepping up and really helping us not skip a beat on the offensive side of the ball.”
Kylany, meanwhile, was busy this fall supporting his teammates and preparing for a possible return. He said his recovery involved lots of physical therapy and training, as well as an ACL bridge program that helps athletes transition from physical therapy to the level of conditioning necessary to return to their sport.
Kylany said it was difficult watching from the sidelines, but that his team’s dominance made it more bearable.
“It was tough, but watching my team put up 73 points and a whole bunch of goose eggs, it makes it easier,” he said.
Kylany took part in his first contact practice earlier this month, then returned to action last Saturday against defending state champion Union. It was his first game since facing the Titans in last year’s state title game loss.
“It was surreal,” he said of being back on the field.
Tri said even though Kylany was a bit rusty at times in his season debut, he still had a dominating impact on the game.
“There’s five offensive linemen and they tend to all blend in at times, (but) you know where (number) 68 is all the time,” Tri said. “He stands out. He really does. … For a kid that was (in) his first game back, he was still one of the best guys out there on the field.”
Hall said it was “awesome” to play once again with his longtime teammate.
“We’ve been playing together since when we were like 10, so when Devin’s out there, everything flows really well,” he said. “We don’t really have to communicate that much. We just know what each other are doing. We can trust each other completely.”
Lake Stevens has been rolling all season, outscoring opponents by 45.6 points per game with a juggernaut offense and smothering defense. But with Kylany back, the No. 3 seed Vikings add yet another elite talent as they continue their state-title quest Saturday afternoon with a quarterfinal clash against visiting No. 11 seed Mount Si.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Kylany also is a veteran leader and two-time team captain.
“What he brings off the field is every bit as important as what he brings on the field — just getting guys excited about going out and practicing,” Tri said. “He just brings positive energy everywhere he goes.”
“He’s a brother to me,” Lake Stevens senior Joe Gonzales said last week, “and it’s just great to see him back on the field.”