It was about this time last year that Mount Baker football coach Ron Lepper and his coaching staff had more questions than answers.
He knew his team could be good, but how good?
Turns out, the Mountaineers had one of their best squads ever, as they advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in program history.
"Last year was great," Lepper said. "It was a lot of fun and ended up being a (heck) of a ride. At the same time, we really haven't talked all that much about it this year. We've told them they have a chance to do their own thing."
But a little more than 365 days later, Lepper's staff is in the same place it was last year - full of questions.
Mount Baker lost a ton off last year's memorable team, including five of six starters on its offensive line, a 1,700-yard running back, its top two receivers, seven starters on defense and even its kicker.
"We have a solid senior class, but they don't have a lot of Friday night experience," Lepper said. "So now is their chance to shine. We're trying to get those guys as ready as we can."
There's only one way to get ready in Deming - instill that typical Baker toughness.
"That's one of the things we like to hang our hats on," Lepper said. "We're probably going to run the ball and then run it a little bit more. We just want that attitude."
Chiefly responsible for that run-first attitude this year will be senior Izaiha Schwinden, who could have been a standout last year if he were the featured back. Lepper said he's worked hard to run with that role this season.
He'll be working behind a rebuilt line that returns only Jake Oiness. Seniors Danny Kirkpatrick, Cody Larson and Alex Ray and sophomores Chad Cohn and Kolton Zender will join him, while Hunter Gates will likely be the tight end.
"Last year, the pieces just really fell right," Lepper said. "They came together and became a unit we could count on. That's what we're hoping for again this year. We'll see if these guys are willing to put in the work and have that same pride to do that job."
Liam Short and Joey Walton will join Schwinden in the backfield.
Andrew Zender will direct the offense for a third straight year, and Lepper said he's comfortable in his role that doesn't allow for many passing opportunities.
"Andrew has got a lot of poise and a lot of leadership," Lepper said. "He's selfless. We don't throw the ball a ton, because that's not what we do, but he understands that. He runs the offense and makes sure guys are where they're supposed to be."
Seth Bass will be the top receiving threat when the Mountaineers do pass.
Gates is the only returning starter on the defensive line. Oiness, Max Martinson and Paul Lebedev are expected to join him.
Returning linebackers Andrew Zender and Walton will be joined by Short, sophomore Balyn Jacoby and Larson, while Bass returns in the defensive backfield and will be joined by Schwinden.
"We've got some guys, we think. It's a matter of how quickly they buy into what we're doing, and they've got to have that desire to want to get better. We're trying to get there and jell as soon as possible. That's the most important thing." - Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper
KEYS TO THE SEASON
1. Jell-O line
With five of six starters new on the offensive front, Mount Baker needs that group to come together in a hurry to make its ground attack potent.
2. Defending the tradition
Mount Baker must rebuild its defense with seven new starters. The personnel may change, but the mentality doesn't - they need to win with toughness.
3. Dome dreaming
The Mountaineers were in a similar position entering last year, so anything is possible, but this year's team can't afford to compare itself to last year.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Izaiha Schwinden, Senior RB/DB
Schwinden rushed for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns in a supporting role last year and will bring a little more speed and tremendous vision to the position this year.
Jake Oiness, Senior OL/DL
Mount Baker's only returning offensive lineman will have to set the tone for the newcomers. He'll also serve an important part of the defensive line.
Andrew Zender, Senior QB/LB
It takes the right mentality to play quarterback for three years and know you're not going throw much, and Zender is a perfect fit and can hit the throws when he's asked.
Seth Bass, Senior QB/DB
Bass may not be as quick as Zan Roman, but he he'll fill the position nicely. He's also the only returning starter in the defensive secondary this year.
Sept. 7 at Bellingham (at Civic Stadium) 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Sultan 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 Lynden 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Cedarcrest 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Nooksack Valley* 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 Lynden Christian* 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Friday Harbor* 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 Blaine* 7 p.m.
Oct. 31 at Meridian* 7 p.m.
*NWC 1A game
10-2, 5-0 NWC 1A
Aug. 31 Bellingham W 55-12
Sept. 7 Sultan W 33-0
Sept. 14 at Lynden L 55-14
Sept. 21 Cedarcrest W 56-6
Sept. 28 Nooksack Valley* W 59-14
Oct. 5 at Lynden Christian* W 43-26
Oct. 12 Friday Harbor* W 36-7
Oct. 19 at Blaine* W 38-14
Oct. 26 Meridian* W 30-8
CLASS 1A STATE PLAYOFFS
Nov. 9 Woodland W 21-14
Nov. 17 at La Center W 24-9
Nov. 24 Montesano L 28-6
*NWC 1A game
2012 STATISTICAL LEADERS
Player Att. Yards Avg. TD
Jake Schleimer 224 1,779 7.9 26
Izaiha Schwinden* 103 875 8.5 10
Joey Walton* 24 206 8.6 2
Player Cmp. Att. Yards TD Int.
Andrew Zender* 53 104 735 8 7
RECEIVING Rec. Yards Avg. TD
Zan Roman 21 388 18.5 3
Dylan Howard 11 124 11.3 1
Izaiha Schwinden* 8 77 9.6 1
No. Player Yr. Ht. Wt. Pos.
3 Balyn Jacoby So. 6-0 168 QB/LB
5 Zach Yurchuk Jr. 5-8 126 RB/DB
10 Mason Bass So. 5-9 152 QB/DB
11 Andrew Zender Sr. 6-1 183 QB/LB
12 Seth Bass Sr. 5-9 146 QB/DB
20 Micah Taylor Jr. 5-10 147 RB/DB
21 Joey Walton Sr. 5-7 144 RB/DB
23 Johnny Mata Jr. 5-7 138 RB/DB
25 Liam Short Jr. 5-10 191 RB/LB
30 Jeff Anderson Jr. 5-7 125 RB/DB
33 Jed Schleimer Fr. 5-11 172 RB/LB
40 Vadim Kotsyuba So. 5-11 151 RB/DB
41 J.T. Keeney So. 5-10 184 RB/LB
42 Jeremiah Cronk So. 5-8 144 RB/LB
44 Izaiha Schwinden Sr. 5-9 161 RB/DB
50 Jax Toctocan Jr. 5-8 180 OL/LB
51 Paul Lebedev So. 5-11 211 OL/DL
53 Cody Larson Sr. 5-11 191 OL/LB
55 Danny Kirkpatrick Sr. 5-9 226 OL/LB
56 Alex Ray Sr. 5-8 176 OL/DL
58 Kolton Zender So. 5-8 181 OL/DL
59 Damien Grubbs Jr. 5-10 188 OL/DL
66 Max Martinson Sr. 5-11 213 OL/DL
67 Jake Oiness Sr. 6-4 216 OL/DL
74 Cory Bergh So. 5-9 195 OL/DL
76 Chad Cohn So. 5-10 236 OL/DL
83 Travis Lindsay Sr. 6-2 176 WR/DB
84 Alex Tyska Sr. 5-11 170 WR/DB
88 Sam Stargell So. 6-0 159 WR/DB
90 Hunter Gates Sr. 6-0 201 TE/DL
99 Carsen Schmidt Jr. 6-4 181 TE/DE
Reach Sports Editor David Rasbach at 360-715-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org .