It’s one of those chicken-or-the-egg dilemmas when you look at the defensive end position on Lynden’s football squad over the past decade – did the young men make the position, or has the position made the men.
The truth is, it’s probably a little of both.
As you look back, a number of Lion greats have played the position: Caleb Newman, Matt Meyer, Ryan Seto, David Gaylord, Bryce Sterk – players that thrived on the edge and tormented Northwest Conference opponents before moving on to play football at the next level.
“I definitely saw those guys, growing up – Matt Meyer, Caleb Newman and those guys,” senior Trey LaBounty said. “They were a lot of fun to watch. It intrigued me to live up to those guys.”
It’s not a stretch to start thinking of LaBounty and junior Jacob Kettles, Lynden’s current defensive ends, in the same vein as those standouts, and that means good things for a defense the Lions plan to lean on this season.
“It’s the key position in our defense,” Lynden first-year head coach Blake VanDalen said. “The linebackers get the credit for making all the tackles, but our defensive ends make plays. Our defensive ends set the edge, and they create pressure, and they cover guys in space. When our defensive ends are really good, we have a lot of success.”
Obviously, the Lions are hoping for success Friday when they travel to face Ferndale in Whatcom County’s biggest annual rivalry. If Lynden is able to slow up a Golden Eagle squad that rolled to 49 points in Week 1 against Vancouver College, much of the credit will likely have to go to LaBounty and Kettles.
It’s the key position in our defense. ... When our defensive ends are really good, we have a lot of success.
Lynden coach Blake VanDalen
“We’re looking for three things to play defensive end for us – size, speed and intelligence,” VanDalen said. “If you have all three of those things, you’ve got a pretty unique football player. You might see guys with good speed or good size or are a smart player, but not a lot of guys have got all three.”
LaBounty and Kettles certainly fit the mold, as LaBounty checks in at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds and Kettles stands 6-5, 260 pounds, allowing Lynden to play smaller, disruptive defensive linemen along its slanting front.
Both LaBounty and Kettles also can move, as they’re important pieces on coach Brian Roper’s basketball team in the winter, much like a number of those that preceded them at defensive end in years past.
LaBounty is a 4.0 student, VanDalen said, who is just as driven to succeed on the field – he took “only two or three days off” from preparing for the football season this offseason, despite touring 11 colleges.
Kettles, meanwhile, is extremely coachable – a “Yes, Coach” kind of guy, VanDalen said – in addition to being “blessed with athletic size, speed and footwork.”
I like how difficult and diverse the position is. If you play the position right, you can have a really big impact on the game.
Lynden defensive end Jacob Kettles
They need every bit of talent, intelligence and drive they can muster to master a position that sometimes calls for them to play up in a 3-4 look and sometimes with their hands in the dirt in more of a 5-2 formation.
“I like how difficult and diverse the position is,” Kettles said. “If you play the position right, you can have a really big impact on the game.”
VanDalen pointed to Lynden’s first defensive play of the season, when Kettles dropped into coverage and forced a Terry Fox pass up in the air. Gage Bates intercepted and returned it for a touchdown, showing just how valuable the duo can be.
The No. 1 priority is being devoted to the run, Kettles said, “but we always have to be aware of the pass.”
And just when you think you’ve got a handle on those roles, there are the times you get called to rush the passer.
The good ones have learned to make it look easy.
Part of the reason Lynden has had so many successful defensive ends is they’ve been able to pass knowledge on from one to the next. It seems they always have one senior or junior to play alongside a junior or sophomore, creating a jedi-padawan kind of mentorship.
I definitely saw those guys, growing up – Matt Meyer, Caleb Newman and those guys. ... It intrigued me to live up to those guys.
Lynden defensive end Trey LaBounty
“There’s always a learning curve,” VanDalen said. “Trey was once the pupil, but now he’s helping Kettles, passing on the tricks that he’s learned from the older guys that helped him.”
In fact, with LaBounty and Kettles playing their second year together, they’re both now able to help junior Carson Bode develop into a third option, creating the opportunity for Bode to spell one of them, as LaBounty and Kettles also play alongside each other on the right side of Lynden’s offensive line.
With two guys that hang out that much, there obviously is going to be competition between the two.
“Oh, there’s a friendly rivalry,” LaBounty said. “I remember last year against Blaine, I had a good game and ended up scoring the most defensive points we’d had that season. The next week against Anacortes, he came out and beat mine. Yeah, we’re always trying to beat each other.”
No matter who wins that battle, it means Lynden’s long line of standout defensive ends is living on ... and big trouble for opposing offenses.
LYNDEN vs. FERNDALE
Time: 7 p.m. Friday
Site: Ferndale High School
Last year: Ferndale won 27-20 at Lynden