Zender looks for wins, not style points

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 15, 2013 

Mount Baker’s Andrew Zender rolls out for the pass against Meridian on Thursday, Oct. 31, in Laurel.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Mount Baker senior quarterback Andrew Zender's play is reminiscent of an old-school, throwback football player.

Stats mean nothing to Zender. Neither do style points. All he does is pile up wins - 25 for his career to be exact.

"When you open the paper on Friday and see his stats, they might not be with everybody else in the conference," Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said. "But he does a lot for us."

How many starting quarterbacks across the prep football landscape start both at quarterback and inside linebacker? Not many. Lepper said Zender's toughness reminds him of Baker alum David Galbraith, who started at quarterback and defensive end back in 1994. But Zender views his duty as less physically demanding than the line responsibilities of teammates Hunter Gates, Cody Larson and Danny Kirkpatrick.

"You just have to be as tough as any other football player," Zender said in a phone interview. "I think it takes a bigger toll on the offensive and defensive line."

Zender, a three-year starter, has navigated Mount Baker's offense brilliantly this fall and has the Mountaineers in the Class 1A State Playoffs - a spot few outside Deming thought Baker would be in mid-November, given the team's heavy turnover.

Mount Baker (8-1, 5-0 NWC 1A) faces Woodland in a rematch of last year's opening-round state game at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at Civic Stadium.

Zender is more than a game-manager, but he distributes the ball flawlessly to his many offensive weapons and cherishes every Mount Baker possession.

"I don't care if we run the ball every play," Zender said. "I just want to win. That's all that matters, and that's all the team cares about and community cares about."

Still, Zender has run for 293 yards and nine touchdowns and has completed 48 of 89 passes for 751 yards and 12 TDs and has thrown only two interceptions.

"He's been doing a good job and has been better as the year has gone on," Lepper said. "He's a guy we can count on to be a viable option for us. We ask him to throw the ball a little bit, and he throws three touchdown passes. If people take a certain part of our offense away, we have the opportunity to do something else."

Zender's maturation in running Mount Baker's offense could never have happened. He came to Mount Baker from a private Bellingham school as a freshman and originally tried out at tight end.

Former Mount Baker player Aaron Baddeley was the heir apparent to replace quarterback Zak Lepper in 2011, Lepper said, but Baddeley made the selfless decision to let Zender start, believing it would bode the best for Mount Baker's future.

"He is still one of my best friends," said Zender of Baddeley. "It gave me a few extra years, and really that was huge. That really helped me prepare for this year."

Zender's underutilized abilities mirrors Mount Baker's other talented offensive pieces. Zender, Izaiha Schwinden, Liam Short, Seth Bass, Travis Lindsay and Joey Walton each could be fixtures within most offenses, but when an opponent takes one player away, Lepper instructs Zender to employ a different option.

The wealth of surrounding skill players has alleviated pressure from Zender to do too much, which was an issue he battled at the beginning of the year, Lepper said.

Mount Baker's offense is averaging 42.3 points per game and has scored 47 or more points five times.

"We were really relying on Izaiha at the beginning of the year, but then teams started keying on him, and then Liam picked it up," Zender said. "We just find where the opening is and spread the ball around."

They'll certainly be looking to put points up against Woodland, which put a scare into Baker during last year's state playoffs. Woodland has a lot of speed and burnt Baker on several sweeps last year, but the Mountaineers rallied to win 21-14 at Civic Stadium.

"Our focus is making sure we contain," Lepper said. "We didn't do a good job of that last year, and it hurt us. We were able to adjust, and things started going our way. They're a good football team and can come from anywhere."

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.

PLAYOFF FOOTBALL

CLASS 2A STATE FIRST ROUND

Today's game

? Sehome at Tumwater, 7 p.m.

CLASS 1A STATE FIRST ROUND

Today's games

? Meridian at Cashmere, 1 p.m.

? Blaine at La Center (at Ridgefield), 3 p.m.

? Woodland at Mount Baker (at Civic Stadium), 6 p.m.

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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