It’s not easy playing offense for the Meridian football team.
Think the Royal coaching staff is having difficulties breaking down a Trojans offense that has averaged 39.2 points per game this year in preparation for Saturday’s Class 1A state championship game? Just try actually learning it.
The reason it’s so difficult to understand the system, legendary coach Bob Ames said, is there actually isn’t a “system” to learn.
“Our offense, we have a lot of stuff in,” Ames said. “It’s really not an offensive system. Nooksack has a system they run; Mount Baker has a system they run; Lynden Christian has a system. Ours’ is what we think we can do with the personnel we have.
“With all the formations we use and the adjustments we put in and all the different plays we run, we give our guys so much to learn.”
No wonder Trojans practices run three hours.
“We have long practices,” senior receiver TJ Dykstra said, “everybody knows that. But when you’re a smaller school like us, you have to work harder than other schools do to prepare.”
As he does with the defense, Ames gives credit for his offense’s success to his assistants – led by Patrick Ames, Robert Burkett, Josh Winters, Ty Harrison and Webster Kurz – saying, “those guys do all the work and put all that stuff in. Patrick’s the guy with the baton.”
But it’s likely all their hard work designing formations, dreaming up plays and implementing adjustments after hours of studying film wouldn’t work if not for a special group of skill position players on Meridian’s roster this year.
That group includes seniors Dykstra, Bryce Vandenhaak, Lukas Hemenway and Tony Schleimer and juniors Dawson Logan and Harlon Stuit and junior running back Cole Roberts. Sophomore Kevin Galiano has come on and joined that group, along with a couple of other youngsters. All are loaded with talent.
“I don’t have to skip over any guys if they’re open,” said Meridian’s Eastern Washington University-bound quarterback Simon Burkett, who is the chief beneficiary of all Trojans’ weapons. “I just feel comfortable getting the ball to any one of them – even the younger guys. We’ve had some freshmen get in there and some third-, fourth-string running backs score for us in the playoffs. It’s pretty amazing.”
Amazing is the numbers Burkett has been able to put up this year through the air with 3,563 yards (274.1 per game) and 43 touchdowns. He’s surpassed 300 yards passing six times and had three or more touchdown throws in eight games.
Vandenhaak leads the way with 1,359 yards and 19 touchdown receptions, while four others – Hemenway (647 yards, 6 TDs), Schleimer (423 yards, 5 TDs), Logan (335 yards, 5 TDs) and Dykstra (306 yards, 5 TDs) – have surpassed 300 yards receiving and have at least five touchdowns. Stuit likely would have joined that group if not for injury, and Galiano has emerged as a big-play threat during the postseason, catching six passes for 162 yards and three TDs in the month of November.
Together, Meridian’s Great Eight have amassed 4,998 yards of total offense (1,225 rushing, 3,662 receiving and 111 passing) and 63 touchdowns (15 rushing, 46 receiving and two passing).
“Obviously, Simon helps us all a lot,” Hemenway said, “but each guy’s got something that they’re good at – like TJ can catch, Bryce is really fast. We just have guys that specialize in different things. It’s pretty cool, because you can see guys doing their things and their talents adding up to do different things on the field.”
Burkett said Meridian actually has a couple of different speed guys and a couple of size guys, but “they’re all good route runners and they’re all good catchers.”
Some of them are really good at doing a number of different things, and that creates an endless supply of options for the coaching staff to utilize as it tries to exploit opposing defenses.
Just look at Vandenhaak, who not only has become a school record-setting receiving threat for the Trojans, but also is second to Burkett with 541 yards and six TDs rushing this year. Or how about Schleimer, who played primarily running back in 2016 and led the team with 754 yards and 11 TDs rushing. He enters Saturday without a carry to his name so far this year.
“They are intuitive and experienced enough that we can have them do a number of different things,” Ames said. “We’re not locked into one plan.
“They’re very flexible. Look at Kevin Galiano, the little sophomore – we introduced him into the fold and he came up with two huge plays for us last week (catching 36- and 76-yard touchdowns in the semifinal win over La Center). We didn’t think we’d see that (early in the year), but he’s really developed.”
A big part of the reason Galiano and the rest of Meridian’s skill weapons have developed this year, Ames said, is Dykstra’s leadership. He’s helped developed what already was expected to be a strength entering the year into a nearly unstoppable force.
“They’ve all been working, working, working,” Ames said, “but TJ has really stepped up. He was our leading receiver last year (55 catches, 792 yards, 7 TDs), but he’s had an ankle injury since the second quarter in Week 1. He hasn’t been the same guy on the field, but he’s like a second coach. Patrick explains what he wants, and TJ explains it to the other guys after the play is called. He’s really helped them all get better.”
And they’ve gotten better together, growing up together in the tight-knit Meridian community.
“It’s been fun growing up with these guys,” Dykstra said. “I’d say we’re one of the goofier groups out here. We like to have fun together.”
But as you’d expect, they also push each other to be better. If one guy has a big game one week, it stokes the competitive fires in the others to contribute even more the next.
“We’re really loose together, especially on the field,” Hemenway said, “but we can also get mad at each other. We don’t hold grudges, though. We’ll yell at each other, but we know it’s nothing about each other. We just want to make each other better players.”
Each of them is going to need to be at their best Saturday if their number happens to be called, especially going against top-ranked Royal and its defense, which is allowing just 3.5 points per game.
“We need flawlessness and a lot of heart,” Hemenway said. “We have to push for extra yards on every play – no dropped passes and running flawless routes. In everything we do, we want perfection.”
Class 1A state championship
Meridian vs. Royal
Time: 1 p.m. Saturday
Site: Tacoma Dome
Online streaming: nfhsnetwork.com/washington/football
“Line the Laurel”
Organizers invite the community to join a rally to send the Meridian football team of to the state championship game in style. They encourage fans to bring homemade signs and noise makers to cheer on the Trojans coaches, players, cheerleaders as they leave for Tacoma. Don’t forget to wear black and gold.
When: Begin gathering around 8:10 a.m. (team scheduled to leave at 8:30 a.m.)
Site: Meridian High School
Meridian’s Great Eight