It's easy to watch in awe the impressive physical specimens that are Lynden's wide receivers. Leading pass catchers Jalani Phelps and Scooter Hastings stand 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-7, respectively.
Their acrobatic catches are what stand out, as does their game-altering ability after hauling in a pass.
But what isn't so obvious is the subtleties of the wide receiver corps. What they do when the ball isn't in their hands is what's most meaningful to Lynden coach Curt Kramme.
"Obviously, the catches are important, but one of the things we ask our receivers to do that goes totally unnoticed is blocking," Kramme said. "Another thing that matters that goes unnoticed is running your routes hard even if the ball isn't coming to you."
Phelps, Hastings and fellow receivers Cameron Wainwright, Trey Shagren and Jordan Wittenberg, as well as tight end Jaremy Martin can all catch well, but they're on the field because their skilled in both traits Kramme most values.
The group will be looking to spring big plays, and also make some themselves, when the No. 2-ranked Lions (11-0) host undefeated No. 4 Sumner during the Class 2A State Playoffs quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at Civic Stadium.
It's no wonder blocking is typically the first drill wide receiver coach Blake Van Dalen puts his players through at practice. It boils down to simple math.
"Even a good receiver is only going to catch nine or 10 balls a game," Kramme said. "Average ones are four to five. That means the other 60 plays you're going to be asked to do something other than catching a pass. That means you're blocking most of the time, and you can't be the guy out there who is just going to stand and watch."
Both Phelps and Hastings understand the we, not me mentality.
"I would say finishing the play, going to the whistle," said Hastings when asked what his biggest focus is besides catching a ball thrown his way. "A bunch of teams ease off when they know the play is almost done, but our guys tend to break tackles and go for the big one."
Lynden's receiving group has played a major role in helping running back Trent Postma rip off chunk plays with downfield blocks, and the hard routes they run contribute to each other's receiving stats.
And while the only numbers Kramme is focused on are the ones on the scoreboard, Lynden's receivers have generated some strong stat lines.
Phelps has caught a team-best 45 balls for 640 yards and six touchdowns, and Hastings has 29 catches for 555 yards and six TDs. Both rank in the top 10 in yards among Northwest Conference leaders.
Shagren and Wainwright, who combined have 18 receptions for 207 yards and two scores, have also made huge catches during important games. Kramme recalled two specifically Wainwright made during the de facto NWC title game.
"I can remember two big catches in the Sedro-Woolley game - one of which wasn't really a catch, where the other guy had the ball and Cameron took it from him." said the Lynden coach. "He had another big third-down play."
What makes the Lions a strong pass-catching group is the myriad of skills each receiver has.
Hastings' big frame gives quarterback Sterling Somers an ideal red-zone target. Somers, or original starter Lucas Petersen, several times have thrown jump balls to Hastings in one-on-one situations, and the senior, who also stars on the basketball court, has plucked them out of the air. One of his biggest moments came against Anacortes when with 8 seconds until half Petersen heaved a ball into the end zone and Hastings came down with it. He also scored a momentum-shifting 62-yard TD from Somers during the Lions' 14-6 win against Ferndale.
"He is 6-7, that's part of it," Kramme said, "but that's not all of it. What he has other than height is athleticism and timing, and he has really big hands, soft hands."
What Hastings may lack in straight-line speed and pure route-running ability, Phelps makes up.
The Lynden senior has track speed and has worked hard, Kramme said, to run crisp routes. He's caught four or more passes seven times this fall.
"His ability to go up for a ball and time his jump is quite good," said Kramme of Phelps. "He's got a great work ethic. He spends a lot of time in the offseason, and we talk about it's not just by accident that things happen. People who put sweat in the bucket, it tends to pay off on Friday nights."
Not only are Lynden's receivers faced with the challenge of blocking and catching passes, usually their job changes right before the snap. Lynden's no-huddle offense allows Kramme to analyze the defense before committing to a play.
Phelps said learning the hand signals relayed into the offense is a process at first.
"When you first start, it's a little rough," Phelps said. "When you first get in the program, it's rough figuring out the signals, but once we get it down, we rep it so much it's like the back of our hand."
Lynden beat Sumner 42-7 last year in Sumner during the state quarterfinals. Kramme said one of the main keys to a win is each individual player focusing on his task each play rather than concentrating on the outcome.
"Focusing on the end of the game is a waste of our energy," Kramme said.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County updates.
SUMNER AT LYNDEN
Time: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22
Site: Civic Stadium
Spartans update: No. 4-ranked Sumner (4-0) beat W.F. West 28-14 during the first round of the Class 2A State Playoffs last week in Sumner. The Spartans led 28-0 before W.F. West scored twice late. Running back Brandon Tuilaepa accounted for 217 of Sumner's 357 rushing yards, ran for two scores and caught a touchdown. The Spartans' defense recorded six sacks and two interceptions, holding W.F. West to a season-low 14 points.
Lions update: No. 2-ranked Lynden (11-0) beat Kingston 34-0 during the opening round of the Class 2A State Playoffs last week in Bellingham. The Lions' defense posted its first shutout of the year and limited Kingston's run game to 44 yards on 24 carries. Trent Postma recorded a team-high 92 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, and Sterling Somers has his best completion percentage as a starter, going 12 of 19 for 165 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Player to watch: Trent Postma has been invaluable all season running the ball and playing linebacker. He'll be counted on to move the chains on offense and will factor tremendously into any of Lynden's defensive success.
Key to the game: Lynden beat Sumner 42-7 during the state quarterfinals last year in Sumner. The Lions' defense, coming off a season-best performance, will need to play well again in order to slow down Sumner's rushing attack.
Herald's pick: Lynden 24-14
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.