LYNDEN - If there is any wonder why the Lynden football team has been so dominant over the past two years, winning back-to-back Class 2A state championships and going 27-1, those questions were answered Wednesday, Feb. 6, during National Letter of Intent day.
No fewer than four Lions signed official documents stating their intentions to play football for NCAA Division I programs on Wednesday - the first day football student athletes could officially sign with NCAA schools.
Surrounded by a room full of family, coaches and classmates, quarterback Josh Kraght, offensive lineman Matt Meyer, defensive lineman/linebacker Caleb Newman and receiver Zach Vis posed for pictures and were honored, not only for what lies ahead, but what they have already accomplished.
"It's pretty impressive when you look at it," said Vis, who signed to play at the University of Montana. "It says a lot about Coach (Curt) Kramme and his assistants and all the hard work they put in. Kramme put together a terrific weight and conditioning program for us, and a lot of guys stepped up and worked hard to get to this point."
While Meyer declared his intentions to play at Washington State last fall and Newman and Kraght announced their commitments a couple weeks ago to Army and Portland State, respectively, Vis didn't make his decision to go to Montana until Sunday, Feb. 3, when he was driving home from Seattle following an official visit at the University of Washington.
Vis said by that time, he had limited the schools he was thinking about to Montana and the University of Washington.
"They've been interested in me from the very beginning, and I'd always kind of liked Montana," Vis said. "I really liked their campus and the feel of the school. They also offered me a partial scholarship, so that played a big part in it."
Vis certainly brings a host of talent with him, as evidenced by his record-setting performance in the Class 2A state championship game, when he caught nine passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 victory over Tumwater.
Despite missing the first five games of the season with a broken collarbone, Vis led the Lions with 52 catches for 929 yards and 10 touchdowns, one season after he surpassed 1,000 yards receiving.
He was also a big-time hitter at safety for Lynden, but the Grizzlies are expected to play him at receiver, Vis said.
"That's what I've always wanted to play, but I'll play wherever they want me," Vis said.
Montana is likely to want his experience, good speed and size on the outside in its spread offense.
Though the Grizzlies usually huddle, Vis said there are a lot of similarities to the routes and formations he'll be running in maroon and silver to the ones he's been running in green and yellow the past three years with the varsity squad.
Montana went 5-6 last year, and Vis said it is looking to improve this year.
By signing with a Big Sky Conference school, Vis also will get the opportunity to stay in touch with Kraght, as Montana and Portland State are conference rivals. The two schools are scheduled to play Oct. 5 in Missoula next fall.
"I'm really excited about this opportunity," said Vis, who said is considering majoring in mathematics so that he can go into business but is currently keeping his options open.
While Vis wrapped up his college search by signing on Wednesday, Newman's letter of intent was just beginning of the application process.
"It felt really good to sign and get that done," Newman said. "It was exciting, but I still have a lot of work to do with the application."
Newman said he still has a number of essays to write and a physical to pass before he's accepted into the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Then of course there's basic training before he starts classes or practices.
But after what he's accomplished at Lynden, Newman said he's ready.
"This is pretty neat to be a part of - having this many guys move on," Newman said. "I think it's a testament to all the hard work put in by the athletes and the coaches to help us get here. But it's more than that. It's about the community. It's not just us. Everybody in this community had a hand in helping us succeed."
As impressive as having four Division I players come from one team is, Lynden possibly could have had more.
Running back Luke Christianson chose to play baseball, instead, as he has already signed to be an outfielder at Lower Columbia College. Marcus Fakkema, who was a lineman on the football team, also signed to play lacrosse at the University of Great Falls, while former Lynden receiver Dak Shagren signed to play basketball at Northwest University.
And there could be another senior or two off Lynden's roster that could end up playing college football next year at a smaller school.
"This is pretty impressive," Meyer said. "We've all worked really hard and pushed each other really hard to get to this point. It means a lot to us and to our school to have this many. ... I think it shows how dominant we really were."
Lynden players weren't the only Whatcom County players expected to sign on Wednesday, though.
Bellingham senior defensive lineman Thomas Vazorka was expected to sign with Idaho State, bringing the county's total of Division I prospects to five.
On the Division II level, Sehome senior Bo Banner said he was planning to sign to play defensive line/linebacker at Central Washington, and Blaine senior offensive lineman Palmer Sandel had committed to Western Oregon.
Those numbers are expected to climb, as more area seniors are exploring their options to continue their playing careers and said they expect to come to decisions in the coming weeks.
The location of Montana's game vs. Portland State was corrected on Feb. 7, 2013, to Missoula, Mont.
Here is a look at the Whatcom County high school football players who have signed National Letters of Intent to be student athletes in college:
|Bo Banner||Sehome||DL/LB||Central Washington|
|Josh Kraght||Lynden||QB||Portland State|
|Matt Meyer||Lynden||OL||Washington State|
|Caleb Newman||Lynden||DL/LB||U.S. Military Academy (Army)|
|Palmer Sandel||Blaine||OL||Western Oregon|
|Thomas Vazorka||Bellingham||DL||Idaho State|
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.