Mount Baker junior bruising running back Liam Short knew he'd be a perfect fit in the Mountaineers' offense before coach Ron Lepper even knew his name.
When Short's dad, who Short said is as crazed about football as he is, was scouring Whatcom County two years ago to determine what city to plant his family in for his new job, he took everything into account - school size, surrounding attractions, overall lifestyle, and yes, football programs.
"Well, actually my dad pushes me hard and it's something that's even caused me to fight with him, but I like it," explained Short, who moved to Deming from Marion, Ill., before his sophomore year. "Before we moved, we looked at the schools and the football programs."
Short and his dad narrowed their choices to Lynden and Mount Baker - that's right, he was that close to being a Lion - but Short said, despite Lynden's state title collecting reputation, his running style matched Baker's Wing-T better than Lynden's no-huddle, spread offense.
Turns out, he made a pretty good choice.
Short assimilated into Baker's team smoothly last year, earning minimal carries and some snaps on defense, but he's broke out this fall. Short's powerful-running style has provided a strong one-two punch with shifty Baker senior Izaiha Schwinden. Short has recorded 1,017 yards and 15 TDs for an average of 8.7 yards per carry. He's especially run well recently, surpassing 120 yards each of the past four games while compiling eight touchdowns.
Mount Baker will need another good performance out of him when the No. 4-ranked Mountaineers (9-1) host No. 2-ranked La Center (11-0) during the quarterfinals of the Class 1A State Playoffs at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at Civic Stadium.
Lepper didn't know what he was getting out of Short, but it took no more than a few glances to realize his potential.
"When you first meet him, you can't help but notice his physical build," Lepper said. "For a sophomore, he was put together well. We knew once he got on the field, he could make some things happen."
Lepper's belief in Short has been spot-on, and thanks to his weight-room dedication, many defensive players have found out just how hard it is to bring down the 5-foot-10, 191-pound bulldozing back.
Woodland got a taste last week - first when Short used a 20-plus yard gain to move the ball to the Beavers' 5 after running over a defender in open space and again in the second half when he drug a defender across the goal line for one of his three scores.
This year's version of Mount Baker, size-wise, isn't the most intimidating group Lepper has coached, but players such as Short give the Mountaineers added bite.
"We're not going to scare people off the bus," Lepper said, "but our kids are going to play hard. I heard some Woodland players after the game saying, 'They were really coming at us," and Liam hits that way. He's got enough speed that if he breaks a tackle, he can get long runs."
Short does have some moves, but he's most productive when he's lowering his shoulders, running north and south.
The Baker back said his running style is all just a part of what the Mountaineers emphasize.
"That's one of our things. Before we go out, we'll say, 'Pound, pound and pound some more,'" Short said. "Whenever we have that happen, when we pound guys right into the end zone, we get excited. It's part of who we are."
Another piece to Mount Baker's offensive identity is deception. The Wing-T is built off keeping defenses guessing, and Lepper said Short does a tremendous job of carrying out fakes. His ability has helped other ball carries such as Joey Walton and quarterback Andrew Zender, and certainly Schwinden, have success.
Together, Mount Baker has run for a combined 3,191 yards, and to think, Short's production could have easily gone to a different county school.
"It's hard on kids coming to a new school," Lepper said. "He has kept his mouth quiet and kind of seen how things went and the lay of the land and fits in now. It kind of seems like he's been with us for years. He's done a good job of being a part of the team."
And Short said he's never regretted choosing to be a Mountaineer.
"I tell people the story, and they tell me I should have gone to (Lynden), but I think this is the place I was meant to be," Short said. "Hey, we might win state this year."
Baker might, but it'll have to get past a tough La Center team first.
"First off, they are really well coached," Lepper said of La Center. "Coach (John) Lambert has had a lot of success down there. They are a lot like us, smaller school, really tough. You have to get them in losses or no gains early in the series, because they will go for it on fourth down no matter where they are on the field. They just put a lot of pressure on you to make sure you're disciplined."
Mount Baker beat La Center 24-9 in Battle Ground during last year's quarterfinals.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
LA CENTER AT MOUNT BAKER
Time: 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23
Site: Civic Stadium
Wildcats update: No. 2-ranked La Center (11-0) beat Blaine 35-14 last week during the opening round of the Class 1A State Playoffs. The Wildcats scored the final 21 points after being tied at 14 in the third quarter. Wyatt Aguirre ran for 148 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries and completed his only pass - a 65-yarder - for a touchdown. Running back Connor Fulton added 97 yards and two scores on 16 rushes and returned a Marcus Potts interception 27 yards for a TD.
Mountaineers update: No. 4-ranked Mount Baker (9-1) beat No. 6 Woodland 42-7 during the first round of the Class 1A State Playoffs last week in Bellingham. The Mountaineers began rolling in the second quarter and led 28-7 before Woodland scored its only touchdown. Baker's defense limited Woodland to 50 rushing yards on 21 carries and intercepted quarterback Hunter Huddleston three times. Liam Short ran for a game-high 178 yards and three TDs on 22 carries, and Izaiha Schwinden added 85 yards and two scores on 17 rushes.
Player to watch: A physical game between two teams who love to run the football may come down to a field goal or extra point. Baker's Alex Tyska is one of the strongest kickers in the Northwest Conference.
Key to the game: No one had held La Center to less than 46 points before Blaine's defense gave up 35 points. Mount Baker's Cody Larson, Andrew Zender and Liam Short will need to have a big game against La Center's power run game.
Herald's pick: Mount Baker 31-24
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.