Mount Baker quarterback Andrew Zender never put up the gaudy numbers over the past three seasons; he just got the job done.
Zender is the only player in school history to quarterback the Mountaineers to the state semifinals - and he's done it twice.
Not satisfied with just making it to the Tacoma Dome, Zender led Mount Baker a step further this year, helping the team qualify for the Class 1A state championship game with an inspired performance in the Mountaineers' 31-28 overtime win over Cascade Christian.
Though Mount Baker ended up falling short of Freeman 31-13 on Saturday, Dec. 7, in the 1A title game, Zender's leadership and team-first attitude couldn't be overlooked this season.
The Class 1A Northwest Conference coaches certainly didn't, as they selected Zender, who also was instrumental for the Mountaineers at linebacker, as the All-NWC 1A Most Valuable Player. His coach, Ron Lepper, was selected the Coach of the Year, while Lynden Christian defensive coordinator Dan Kaemingk was chosen Assistant Coach of the Year.
Zender finished with 1,084 yards and 15 passing touchdowns, but he also ran for 490 yards and 11 scores on 116 attempts (4.2 average). He had 106 yards and a rushing TD in the semifinal win over Cascade Christian.
Zender was one of a number of Mountaineers honored by the NWC 1A coaches.
Three Mount Baker seniors - running back/defensive back Izaiha Schwinden, tight end/defensive lineman Hunter Gates and kicker/punter Alex Tyska - were two-time selections.
Schwinden led the Mountaineers with 1,369 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing on 170 attempts (8.1 average). He also caught 18 passes for 294 yards and four TDs and was a valuable piece of a very strong Mount Baker secondary, where he was a unanimous selection.
Though injury kept him from punting late in the season, Tyska booted 66 extra points and five field goals, but none were bigger than the game-winning 28 yarder in overtime of the state semifinals.
Gates was a force up front on both sides of the ball for the Mountaineers. Though the tight end is primarily a sixth offensive lineman in Mount Baker's system, he still caught 11 passes for 161 yards and three TDs and was a unanimous choice at tight end.
Two other members of the Mountaineers' offensive front joined Gates on the first team with the selections of senior Danny Kirkpatrick and sophomore Chad Cohn. Cohn was a unanimous selection.
On defense, Mount Baker had sophomore lineman Paul Lebedev, senior linebacker Cody Larson and senior defensive back Travis Lindsey selected to the first team, with Lebedev and Larson unanimous choices.
Meridian, which reached the first round of the Class 1A State Playoffs, had two seniors - lineman Spencer Blackburn and running back/defensive back Letrez Jones - who were unanimous selections on both sides of the ball.
Blackburn has been the most dominant lineman in the conference the past two years and was instrumental in helping Jones rush for a conference-high 1,960 yards and 30 TDs on 199 attempts (9.8 average).
Senior Sam Chambers also was a unanimous pick at wide receiver for the Trojans with his team-high 35 catches for 611 yards and three TDs.
Blackburn was joined on the first-team defensive line by senior Tucker Garcia and junior Blake Carson, while Kaleb Heezen was a unanimous choice at linebacker.
Blaine, which also reached the first round of the 1A State Playoffs, had junior Adam McShane selected to the first-team offensive line and sophomore Josiah Westbrook as a unanimous pick at receiver. Westbrook led the Northwest Conference with 787 yards and 12 TDs on 38 receptions this year.
The Borderites also had a pair of seniors selected to the first-team defense in linebacker Jon Stewart and defensive back Cole Muder, who was a unanimous selection. Though he wasn't selected on offense, Muder finished second to Jones with 1,480 yards and 12 TDs on 273 carries (5.4 average).
Lynden Christian, which reached the 1A Northwest District Playoffs, had senior Joe Kooiman selected first team on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Joining him were senior linebacker Josh Friberg and junior receiver Alex Vander Velden, who was a unanimous pick. Vander Velden finished second to Westbrook with 752 yards and nine TDs on 36 receptions this season.
Nooksack Valley junior Tanner Myhre was a unanimous first-team pick at quarterback, after he led the NWC with 2,107 yards and 22 yards passing. Myhre was also a first-team pick at defensive back.
Joining Myhre on the first team for the Pioneers were senior Leni Halaapiapi at offensive line, junior Lathan Halaapiapi at defensive line and junior Curtis Handy at linebacker.
Friday Harbor's Nathan Steenkolk rounded out the first team as a two-way selection at running back and linebacker. He was a unanimous pick on defense.
NWC 1A coaches also nominated Blackburn, Heezen, Garcia, Leni Halaapiapi and Blaine's Andray Baydak for the Class 1A All-State Game on the line and Jones, Steenkolk, Zender, Schwinden and Muder for the skill positions.
ALL-NORTHWEST CONFERENCE 1A PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
A look at the Players of the Year from the Northwest Conference since its inception in 2006:
Year Player School
2006 Tyler Slesk Meridian
2007 Sean Hurlbut Meridian
2008 Wade Rediger Nooksack Valley
2009 Jon Charroin Nooksack Valley
2010 Zach Slesk Meridian
2011 Trevon Myhre* Nooksack Valley
John Murphy* Meridan
2012 Mario Gobbato Blaine
2013 Andrew Zender Mount Baker
*Co-MVPs were selected in 2011
ALL-NORTHWEST CONFERENCE CLASS 1A TEAM
Selected by league's coaches
Most Valuable Player: Andrew Zender, RB/LB, Mount Baker
Coach of the Year: Ron Lepper, Mount Baker
Assistant Coach of the Year: Dan Kaemingk, Lynden Christian
Player Year Pos. School
Spencer Blackburn* Sr. OL Meridian
Sam Chambers* Sr. WR Meridian
Chad Cohn* So. OL Mount Baker
Hunter Gates* Sr. TE Mount Baker
Leni Halaapiapi Sr. OL Nooksack Valley
Letrez Jones Sr. RB Meridian
Danny Kirkpatrick Sr. OL Mount Baker
Joe Kooiman Sr. OL Lynden Christian
Adam McShane Jr. OL Blaine
Tanner Myhre* Jr. QB Nooksack Valley
Izaiha Schwinden Sr. RB Mount Baker
Nathan Steenkolk Sr. RB Friday Harbor
Alex Vander Velden* Jr. WR Lynden Christian
Josiah Westbrook* So. WR Blaine
Player Year Pos. School
Spencer Blackburn* Sr. DL Meridian
Blake Carson Jr. DL Meridian
Josh Friberg Sr. LB Lynden Christian
Tucker Garcia Sr. DL Meridian
Hunter Gates Sr. DL Mount Baker
Lathan Halaapiapi Jr. DL Nooksack Valley
Curtis Handy Jr. LB Nooksack
Kaleb Heezen* Sr. LB Meridian
Letrez Jones* Sr. DB Meridian
Joe Kooiman Sr. DL Lynden Christian
Cody Larson* Sr. LB Mount Baker
Paul Lebedev* So. DL Mount Baker
Travis Lindsey Sr. DB Mount Baker
Cole Muder* Sr. DB Blaine
Tanner Myhre Jr. DB Nooksack Valley
Izaiha Schwinden* Sr. DB Mount Baker
Nathan Steenkolk* Sr. LB Friday Harbor
Jon Stewart Sr. LB Blaine
Player Year Pos. School
Alex Tyska Sr. K Mount Baker
Alex Tyska Sr. P Mount Baker
Class 1A All-State Game nominations
Player Pos. School
Spencer Blackburn Line Meridian
Kaleb Heezen Line Meridian
Tucker Garcia Line Meridian
Andray Baydak Line Blaine
Leni Halaapiapi Line Nooksack Valley
Letrez Jones Skill Meridian
Nathan Steenkolk Skill Friday Harbor
Andrew Zender Skill Mount Baker
Izaiha Schwinden Skill Mount Baker
Cole Muder Skill Blaine