LYNDEN - Trainers use blinders as a way to keep race horses focused on what is ahead, rather than what is behind.
In many ways, that's exactly what the Lynden football team is doing this year.
After winning its second straight Class 2A state title in 2012, the Lions lost 19 of their 22 starters from their title game victory over Tumwater to graduation as part of arguably the most talented senior class to ever come out of Whatcom County.
But after two days of practice, Lynden is doing its best to make sure that class - as great as it was on and off the field - is just a memory.
"We don't focus on last year," said Lynden senior receiver/defensive end Jalani Phelps, who is one of those three returning starters. "We don't compare ourselves to last year's team. The team we had last year was the best team we've had in Lynden history, but we don't compare ourselves to them. We just focus on what we need to do to be our best."
One of the better ways to do that is to build their own identity and own family, something the Lions have been quick to do.
"You've got to make new friends every year," said Lynden senior linebacker Jaremy Martin, who also started last year. "Every team is like a family. Losing those guys from last year was like losing a brother. Now we just need to make friends and a new team and come out together and fly around."
Whether it's because of last year's success or the fact that Lynden opens the 2013 season in the Sept. 7 Emerald City Kickoff Classic against King's at Husky Stadium, coach Curt Kramme said the family is rather big this year - approximately 70 players turned out, and that's not counting the freshman team.
And they've quickly worked to make sure they're all going in the same direction.
"We've come together as a team real well, and I think we can use teamwork more," Phelps said. "We're going to have a few more close games than we had last year, so that teamwork is going to be really important."
In fact, that closeness is already showing benefits in practice during the first two days before the team is allowed to put on pads.
"It's been amazing how quickly we've come together," said junior running back/linebacker Trent Postma, who is the final returning starter and one of four team captains. "Everything is really organized. We're just starting running the plays, and it seems like we got it down the first day."
Despite that, Lynden players have heard the naysayers comment that they can't possibly be as good as last year.
But they don't let it bother them.
"It just gets us more fired up if people underestimate us," Postma said. "It gets us more fired up for the games we're going to play. I think that's what drives us this year. We actually kind of like it."
It may not always be easy, but by the end of the year the Lions of 2013 hope to make it tough for next year's squad to forget about them.
"We just need to stay positive," Martin said. "Even last year when we were down, we stayed positive and we fought. We just can't get down on ourselves. We've got to work hard; we can't take a day off and we need to come out ready to play hard."
FOOTBALL CAMP UPDATES
This is the second of 11 preseason looks at the high school football programs in Whatcom County. Look for the 2013 season preview in the Sept. 6 edition of The Bellingham Herald.
Reach David Rasbach at 360-715-2271 or email@example.com .