Outsiders won't marvel at the Mariners' three wins and five losses, but inside Sehome's walls they know something special has been brewing, and it starts with the big boys up front.
Coach Bob Norvell first emphasized family and brotherhood when he took over Sehome's program in 2012. Nowhere has that rubbed off more than within the offensive- and defensive-line units.
Interior junior linemen Tyler Haggen, Drew Norvell and Austin Rosas could barely get off the ball last fall, Sehome line coach Dale Archer said. The trio, which combined weighs 775 pounds, contained the skill set, but they needed to build strength and work together better in unison.
"It was tough at first," Archer admitted. "They had to learn to work with each other. They are a big group of boys right there. There's a lot of beef right there. Working with each other, we stressed a lot on becoming a family and watching each other's back. There wasn't much of that here when we started. You want competition, but you don't want to compete against each other and pull each other down."
So where was the line's family atmosphere sparked? A buffet, of course.
Archer came up with the idea last year to meet at the Old Country Buffett inside the Bellis Fair Mall following Saturday morning film sessions. It gave the line time to bond and talk about their upcoming opponent.
Archer thought players would take over the get-together, but when the man who'd been preaching accountability didn't show one week, he learned in the aftermath about the positive direction his line was heading.
"I was kind of trying to slide out of it," Archer said. "I kind of got myself in trouble, because I didn't show up, and they looked at me like, 'Coach, where's your accountability?' And they did. They held me accountable. I explained to them, here's why. Well, that wasn't accepted."
Spearheaded last year by starters Haggen and Drew, the strides Sehome's line made continued into the offseason and have made a huge impact on the both the Mariners' running and passing attack this season.
The desire shown by Sehome's space eaters to work together was prevalent even during track and field last spring, Bob said.
"Ten guys were out throwing," said the Sehome coach. "Drew's freshman year, he was the only thrower as a freshman. Suddenly, there was 10 out. They wanted to be a part of something."
But the real moment Bob witnessed the promise of Sehome's interior line came during a seven-on-seven tournament last summer at Lakewood High School.
Archer raved about how much work, on their own, the group spent on lifting and drilling agility during the offseason, and the results showed when Sehome's linemen placed second during the tournament's linemen challenge, which included benching, sled work and a tug-of-war competition.
Even though the Mariners last year owned a better yard per carry average than they've had this season, Archer said the difference between the two units is so dramatic, he hardly could explain it.
"We couldn't create holes last year at all," Archer said. "We relied on good running backs who could read well. This year, good luck."
The Mariners are averaging 191.4 yards per game at a 5.4 yards-per-rush clip. The line has also provided time for ultra-athletic quarterback Daniel Ziegler and teammates Aaron Nichols and Gavin Kaepernick to throw for 1,167 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I think that this year has gone pretty well for the inside of the line," Drew said. "I think we have gotten some pretty good push, and it's because we worked hard in the offseason to get where we are now."
More so than stats and creating big plays, Archer and Bob have tried to foster a new standard at Sehome, where players together earn reputations as hard-working role models up-and-comers can look up to.
Archer's group has certainly shown how to do things the right way. Even an hour after practice Tuesday evening, Oct. 29, linemen were tucked away in the corner of Sehome's weight room in front of a whiteboard diagramming plays.
"We've always wanted to succeed in making a standard for Sehome football," explained Rosas - a first-year starter on the O-line. "If we hang out with our teammates and just do other activities, I feel like it puts us together as a team, and we can trust each other to do bigger things other teams can't do."
And Sehome's line is only going to get better. Haggen and Drew start both ways and will return next year with Rosas. Another junior, George Loeppky, starts at tackle, and sophomore Jeremy Johnson starts at opposite tackle.
For now, the Mariners are focused on achieving two season goals that will come down to this week's final regular-season game against winless Bellingham.
Sehome will earn a city championship with a win - a feat that's evaded them since at least 2007. More importantly, the Mariners force a Kansas City Tiebreaker with Anacortes and Burlington-Edison for a 2A playoff spot if both Skagit County schools lose.
"I think that's been missing for a long time, a city championship," Bob said. "Getting that back to Sehome is huge. That next step has to happen at the same time. Teams from Bellingham have to start getting to the playoffs and winning games. That's our ultimate goal."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for stories and game updates.
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