MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — There’s no turning back for the Mountlake Terrace football team.
Nearly two decades of struggles and losing records came to an end last year when the Hawks shook off a 0-4 start and won five of their final six games to finish 5-5 overall, the school’s best record since 1986.
Many key contributors to the turnaround graduated, but their influence is still being felt as the returning players gathered for practices at the high school last week.
“We’re not going to let last year’s seniors take us to .500 and then just drop back down,” said senior offensive linemen Brady Barnes. “We’re going to look to improve on last year and hopefully get above .500. I look forward to getting above .500. I know we have the ability to do it.”
What the Hawks are lacking is varsity experience. While the 2005 team was top heavy with seniors, the senior class this year is smaller.
The talent is there, though.
Senior wide receiver/linebacker Eric Doyle isn’t too concerned about having fewer seniors.
“It’s good to have big numbers, but we have quality not quantity this year,” Doyle said. “We also have a big junior class, so they’re filling spots that need to be filled.”
The biggest void is at running back with the departure of second-team, all-league standout Carroll Powell, the centerpiece of the 2005 offense.
Junior running back Casey Finnicum should assume a larger role this season.
Returning quarterback Tony Ellersick sees certain parallels between Finnicum, a two-time state wrestling participant, and Powell.
“He’s a really hard runner,” Ellersick said of Finnicum. “He does whatever he can to get more yardage, so he’s kind of like Powell but not as experienced.”
Finnicum likely will be joined by several other individuals in the backfield.
“It could be a backfield by committee just because there are a lot of carries to spread around that Carroll had last year,” Mountlake Terrace head coach Tony Umayam said. “But we’re definitely looking to open things up and throw the ball a little bit more now. We have an experienced quarterback. We have a pretty good athletic group of receivers that should be able to make plays.”
Junior wide receiver Michael Wiley will be another key component of the offense. Ellersick’s experience is a major asset for what should be an improved passing attack.
Mountlake Terrace, however, is by no means abandoning the running game.
“It’s really turning out better than we all (expected),” Barnes said. “We’re deep in talent. We haven’t really had one solid person step in and take the job. We have four or five people we can put in at anytime.”
The defense saw a little more turnover than the offense. Eight starters are gone.
The Hawks should be very athletic on the defensive side of the ball.
“We might be a bit undersized up front, but we have some good athletes that swarm to the football,” Umayam said. “That’s what we teach and preach here — swarming to the football.”
Junior defensive lineman Chris Wells has impressed Umayam. The third-year head coach also likes what he’s seen of senior linebacker Bryan Crowe and sophomore defensive back Billy Lechtenberg.
The defense is still working on becoming a cohesive unit.
“We lost eight guys,” Doyle said. “I think it’s going to take a little bit of time. Every day we’re bringing everything together. We’ve got to get used to each other. Last year was a completely different squad. I’m confident that everyone is capable.”
The competition among players is inspiring each player to put his best effort forth in practice.
“Everyone is fighting for their own spot because we know that no one has their spot,” Ellersick said. “They’ve got to fight for it.”
Last year’s success seems translated into an increased turnout in the weight room during the offseason.
Part of the reason for the four straight losses to open last season may have been a lack of conditioning, said Ellersick, who doesn’t anticipate any more dropoffs late in the game.
Umayam is hoping to carry some of the momentum from last year’s strong finish and the hard work put in by the players during spring workouts and summer camp into the fall campaign.
But Umayam admits the Hawks are entering into uncharted territory since many of the juniors and sophomores have limited varsity experience.
The first week of practices had its share of ups and downs as would be expected of a young team, Umayam said. Some players are still getting used to the speed of varsity ball and are learning some new offensive and defense schemes.
Umayam is eager to see how the Hawks react when they take on Lynnwood in tonight’s season opener (5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1) at Edmonds Stadium.
“We’re interested to see if the steps forward that we made last year will trickle down and just bring the whole level of play up program-wise,” Umayam said. “These guys learned from last year’s senior class how we play football here and hopefully they’re ready to take the next step.”
The players believe the ingredients for a winning season are in place and if there was one lesson last year’s seniors taught everyone, it was the importance of unity on the field.
“We might not see each other that much outside of practice, but when we’re here we need to set everything aside and just work together because that’s what it’s about on Friday nights,” Doyle said.