TACOMA - After graduating a senior class that included the likes of Levi Wigg, Alec Postlewait and a number of other very good players last year, not a whole lot was expected of the Mount Baker football team in 2012.
"People didn't know what to expect of us," Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said. "We had a number of holes to fill after last year."
But Lepper and his coaching staff were able to fill those holes with the help of another senior class that bought into a team-first attitude and worked hard from the opening of practices to build chemistry with after-practice trips down to the Nooksack River.
The result was a Northwest Conference 1A title, matching the school record with 10 wins and the Mountaineers' first-ever trip to the Class 1A state semifinals.
Though the season ended with a 28-6 loss to Montesano on Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Tacoma Dome, it doesn't take away from what the Mount Baker seniors were able to accomplish.
"This was a special group of guys," senior linebacker/center Tyrel Cronk said. "They believed in each other, even when nobody expected much from us. We played for each other."
Players like Marcus Thomas and Chase Toctocan moved from positions where they might have been able to touch the ball in the trenches to fill holes along the offensive front, joining Cronk and fellow seniors Jake Larsen and tight end Dalton Munsell.
Others like Munsell, Sterling Honeycutt and Matt Scoles made huge improvements to step up and fill holes along the defensive front.
In fact, every one of Mount Baker's 11 seniors this year started in some capacity.
"That's what I'm most proud about with this senior class," Lepper said. "We were able to get every one of those guys on the field, and they made an impact for us."
Obviously, some of those roles were unmistakable, like the 1,780 yards and 26 touchdowns running back Jake Schleimer accounted for as he became the featured back with the loss of Wigg.
Some were more emotional roles, like the hard-hitting, physical style Cronk brought to the heart of the Mount Baker offensive line and center of the defense.
"Our senior class wouldn't have been the same without its leaders, and those two were huge ones for us," Lepper said. "Tyrel was the heart and soul for us a lot of times, but I was really impressed with the way Jake stepped up and became a leader, both vocally and by example."
And who could forget about the impact Kaleb Brownfield and Zan Roman, before he was injured in the first round against Woodland, had in the Mountaineers' passing game and defensive backfield or Edgar Zavala's role on special teams?
"I'm so proud of our senior class," Schleimer said. "Everybody worked hard to get to this point, and I think we set a good example for the next set of guys to come through here."
And now Baker's magical 2012 season is over, it's up to players like junior quarterback Andrew Zender and running back Izaiha Schwinden and defensive end Hunter Gates to pick up where this year's senior class left off.
"Getting this far was huge for our whole community," Cronk said. "Hopefully this is just a start. Hopefully the younger guys that were a part of it this year will get back here and go even further. They know how much hard work went into getting here. Getting here the first time was huge, but there is still more that needs to be done."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.