BLAINE - There is a definite sense of excitement near the border this year, as the Blaine football team entered its second week of practices in preparation for the 2012 season.
"We're trying to keep the intensity up," Borderites senior Caleb Johnson said after a morning practice session on Monday, Aug. 20. "The older guys are trying to teach the younger guys to stay focused and intense every time out. We want to treat everything we do in practice like game situations. That way we're ready by the time the first game rolls around. The more you do now and the better you prepare, the more it will help you during the season."
Not only do the Borderites expect to be well prepared, last spring's reclassification has shuffled them down to Class 1A after they have played the first six years in the Northwest Conference as a 2A school.
No longer will Blaine be the smallest fish in a medium-sized pond, they'll be one of the largest fish in a smaller pond.
"We're really excited that us and Mount Baker are in 1A," senior James Fakkema said. "We went to camp earlier this summer, and we saw a couple of good 1A teams that we could see in the postseason this year, and it was pretty exciting. ... We're setting our goals way high this year."
It's not that Blaine struggled when it was a 2A school. Before missing out in 2010 and 2011 - though they did play in the Class 2A Northwest District play-in game last year - the Borderites reached the 2A state playoffs for three straight years.
That's a string the Borderites look to restart this year.
But that's not all they're looking forward to with the move to 1A.
"Six years ago, when the new conference was formed, we were the lowest 2A school, obviously with Mount Baker, but that also took away some rivalries - good rivalries with Lynden Christian and Nooksack Valley and Meridian," coach Jay Dodd said. "Blaine's always been a school that's about the same size as a number of other county schools. We're excited, because we haven't played those schools in six years. I'm an alum here at Blaine, and we used to play those schools home and away for 40 or 50 years. For the last six years, those games just kind of went away. We formed new rivalries, and I think we did a fairly decent job against those teams, but we're excited to play those old rivals again."
Blaine seems built for some old-fashioned grudge matches this year.
Not only do they return the Northwest Conference's leading rusher from last year - 2,669-yard man Mario Gobbato - but also most of their defense, which should improve, and now-sophomore quarterback Nathan Kramme, who figures to have grown tremendously from last season.
Even though the Borderites graduated a big portion of the offensive line that opened holes for Gobbato, they're confident they can plug the holes and be just as good, if not better.
"The O-line has looked great," said Fakkema, who is a returning guard. "We're looking to pick up where we left off last year and open some holes for Mario."
Gobbato said he's been impressed with the growth not only of his offensive line, but the improvements the entire team has made this season.
"We did a great job in the weight room this year," the senior said. "We have a mandatory 25 days for everybody in the weight room, and all our upperclassmen did a good job of getting in there and getting the younger guys in there. I don't think we had a guy miss a day."
Blaine hopes that hard work starts to pay off on Aug. 31, when the Borderites host New Westminster, B.C.
"We face a couple of Canadian schools that should be special in Weeks 1 and 2, because they're bringing their JV teams down, so we're going to have a doubleheader in Week 1 and a Week 2," Dodd said. "That's kind of neat for our community having two games in one night. We're also excited to play Lakewood in Week 3. They're a 2A team that went to the (state quarterfinals) last year, and they've got a lot of players coming back, so we're excited for that. And then there's all those rivalries - we're really looking forward to this year."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2271.
This is the third in a series of reports from the 11 Whatcom County high school football teams during preseason practices.
Next up: Lynden Christian
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.