It’s tough for senior running back Damek Mitchell to describe what coach Nick Lucey has done to turn around the Squalicum football program since taking over more than two years ago.
He paused, thought to himself, then summed it up a minute later.
“What really makes coach special is the way he talks to every single one of us individually and more than just football,” Mitchell said.
Before Lucey took the job, Squalicum hadn’t made the state playoffs since opening its doors in 1998. The team reached the Northwest District playoffs three times in the previous eight years, but had never been able to advance past mediocrity.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
When Lucey was introduced to the team two years ago, he told everyone they needed to commit to the program.
“The seniors then really bought into what coach was doing and saying,” senior quarterback Garrett Sorenson said. “That team went to the quarterfinals of state, and from there the whole team bought into Lucey. They said, ‘I want to be part of this.’ ”
A large aspect of Lucey’s plan to turn around Squalicum as accountability. Now, it is the third-ranked team in Class 3A in the latest Associated Press poll heading into a 3A Wesco North showdown with No. 7 Oak Harbor Friday, Sept. 30, at Civic Stadium. He and his coaching staff, to whom he credits the ability to reach this point, emphasized conditioning in the offseason.
“It’s not easy getting up early in the morning when you’re sore from yesterday’s workout, but that’s what we have to do to get better,” senior linebacker Jack Wendling said. “This offseason was important to us after last season’s loss to Tumwater at state. We want to make it to the title game this year, and we knew the weight-room sessions could take us there.”
Those sessions have helped the team become more physical, Lucey said, and being physical on the field is as important as anything.
“We want to play physical football,” Lucey said. “Football is a physical game, and to get bigger and stronger will help these guys be more confident on the field.”
As tough as those workouts can be, Lucey and his coaching staff also want the team to have fun on the field.
“We have to find some kind of balance,” he said.
Mitchell said Lucey’s easy-going personality lets the team have fun, and the coach is always offering words of encouragement, a high-five or a joke at practice.
The success has transformed a community and a school to create more interest and passion for Storm football. At the first game of the season against Gig Harbor, Lucey said “tons” of Squalicum fans made the more than two-hour drive to the game.
“Even at school, I’ll have teachers and students come up and ask about the game,” Sorenson said. “They want to know about the matchups and how we’ll do. It’s kind of cool.”