Mount Baker senior running back Izaiha Schwinden admits that he's a football junkie.
On any given Sunday, he'll be parked on the couch, with the TV tuned to football all day long - not just watching, but processing.
"You can learn so much by watching the game on TV," Schwinden said. "I think I learn what to watch for on the field when I'm playing."
His favorite running backs to watch and learn from? That's easy - San Francisco's Frank Gore and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, though Schwinden admits, "I'm not that big, powerful runner like Marshawn Lynch."
But Gore is still a terrific back for Schwinden to look up to and try to mimic.
"He has good vision," Schwinden said. "When I watch the 49ers, I love to watch how he sees the holes, and if he doesn't see anything outside, he cuts it back inside."
Not surprisingly, Schwinden runs in much the same way.
He hopes to utilize his own vision to help the sixth-ranked Mountaineers when they host they host Class 2A top-ranked Lynden in a non-conference game at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20.
"I think Izaiha does a good job of seeing things," Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said in a phone interview. "Sometimes he sees things so well that he ends up dancing around a little too much. That's OK, though - I don't want to take away from his creativity. He can make some people look silly."
Schwinden enters Friday leading Mount Baker and tied for fifth in the Northwest Conference with 252 yards on 25 carries (10.1 average). He's rushed for three touchdowns and also caught five passes for 88 yards and another score during the first two weeks.
Schwinden's ability to see and read blocks have been a big part of his success, and he said he believes the time he's spent watching running backs like Gore operate on Sunday has played a huge role in his ability to do just that.
"I make sure there's a hole first, and then I make sure guys can set up to block an opponent's guy," Schwinden said. "The key is recognizing it fast and making a decision fast. ... I don't even think about it. It just happens."
That's not the only thing Schwinden does fast.
The 5-foot-9, 161-pounder brings a good deal of speed to the position for Mount Baker, and he worked to get even faster during the offseason.
"Every time he touches the ball, there's an opportunity for him to make a big play," Lepper said. "That's what speed can do for you. ... We've had some other guys that have had good speed. Back in 2003 Michael Rathjen had Izaiha's kind of speed, and Justin Brown had some speed back in the day. (Schwinden) has the same creativity thing that Jacob Prince had back in the late 1990s. Izaiha's not the biggest guy on the block, but he understands that, and he has that ability to make things happen."
Schwinden is far from the only back able to make things happen for Mount Baker.
In fact the Mountaineers have a trio of backs in the their Wing-T offense plenty capable of churning up yards and getting Mount Baker into the end zone.
Joey Walton has 228 yards and a team-high four touchdowns on 14 carries (16.3 average).
"He's fast," Schwinden said of Walton. "I think he runs a little more like me. He's definitely a tough kid, too. He'll go through you if he needs to, but he's pretty shifty."
Liam Short has rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries (5.8 average).
"Liam is strong," Schwinden said. "He's pretty fast - faster than I thought he was. He's more of a power kid, though. He'll find a hole and run in full speed."
Together, the trio is helping make up for the loss of Jake Schleimer to graduation after he rushed for 1,779 yards and 26 touchdowns last year.
Schwinden also played a key role in 2012, rushing for 875 yards and 10 TDs, to help the Mountaineers reach the Class 1A state semifinals for the first time.
But he entered 2013 knowing his teammates were counting on him even more heavily.
"He's done everything we've asked of him and worked real hard in the weight room this offseason," Lepper said. "He realized what he needed to do to make us better and to make himself better, and he did everything he could to do that."
Schwinden also was quick to give credit to his offensive line for his and the other Mount Baker running backs' success during the first two weeks, especially considering the Mountaineers had to replace five of six starters up front, when you include the tight end.
"The linemen have put in a lot of hard work," Schwinden said. "They do a good job of getting to blocks and holding them long enough for us to get to the hole and make the cuts we need to make. As a unit they have come together really quickly. Every lineman has the other linemen's back. They're like their own little family."
And just like the linemen, Schwinden and the running backs have their own family atmosphere. Schwinden said he, Walton and Short have a friendly rivalry seeing who can make more big plays.
But like the linemen, the backs take a lot of pride in helping each other break off those big runs by making key blocks, something all three of them have become adept at, Lepper said.
"It's exciting to know you've done your job, whether it's running the ball or picking up a block," Schwinden said. "It's just as exciting (as making a big run or scoring a touchdown). It's great to know that what you did ended up resulting in a big play or a touchdown. You know you played your own little role in the team's success."
And with unselfish, talented backs like Schwinden, Walton and Short, Mount Baker's looking for a lot more success this season.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.