High School Football

One standout running back wasn’t enough; Mount Baker needed another confident option

Mount Baker’s Carson Engholm drags Nooksack Valley’s Tre Silva, center, and Austin O'Bryan into the end zone for a touchdown Sept. 23 at Mount Baker High School in Deming. Mount Baker defeated Nooksack Valley 44-36, and the two schools will play again Friday, Oct. 14, at Nooksack Valley.
Mount Baker’s Carson Engholm drags Nooksack Valley’s Tre Silva, center, and Austin O'Bryan into the end zone for a touchdown Sept. 23 at Mount Baker High School in Deming. Mount Baker defeated Nooksack Valley 44-36, and the two schools will play again Friday, Oct. 14, at Nooksack Valley. eabell@bhamherald.com

Carson Engholm says it feels especially rewarding when one of his blocks helps fellow running back Jed Schleimer gain extra yards.

“If I can help Jed gain 10 more yards, the feeling is just as good as when I gain 10 yards,” the Mount Baker junior said.

In a case of happy irony for the two, however, Schleimer seems likely to run for fewer yards than in 2015, when they combined for nearly 3,400, because Engholm may well gain far more than he did as a sophomore.

Their numbers tell the tale, though both say the size of the holes Mount Baker’s line opens make it all possible.

Schleimer, a senior leader working to appear in the Class 1A state playoffs for the fourth time, is still on pace for an outstanding season with a Whatcom County-high 876 yards and 18 touchdowns on 92 attempts (9.5 average per carry) through the first six weeks. But he appreciates getting more backfield help than he did last year, when he rushed 220 times for 2,520 yards and 34 touchdowns while leading the Mountaineers to a 10-2 record and the state quarterfinals.

“I’ve known Carson since he was in first grade when we played flag football,” Schleimer said. “Carson has always been a fine athlete. ... The main thing is that he’s playing with a lot more confidence and he doesn’t avoid contact.”

Engholm’s statistics reflect his confidence. He has gained 673 yards – ranking him fourth among Whatcom County ballcarriers – on 79 carries (8.5 average) with 10 rushing touchdowns for Mount Baker (6-0, 3-0 1A Northwest Conference), which plays at Nooksack Valley (4-2, 2-1) Friday, Oct. 13, in a game that could decide whether the Mountaineers will win a fifth consecutive league title. Engholm is 210 yards short of last year’s 12-game total of 883 yards and has surpassed the six touchdowns he ran for in 2016.

With sophomore quarterback Kaleb Bass balancing Mount Baker’s offense with 782 yards and nine scores through the air, Schleimer doesn’t mind the decreased workload – he’s averaging 15.3 carries per game, down from the 18.3 he averaged in 2015 – especially since he and Engholm are counted on to be defensive standouts.

“Carson is one of our best tacklers in the open field,” Schleimer said of the cornerback. “He doesn’t miss tackles.”

In Mount Baker’s wild 47-42 win over Kalama in the opening round at state last year, Engholm erupted with 148 yards on 16 carries, including a 29-yard touchdown run, and a game-saving interception on Kalama’s final drive.

“Carson really broke out toward the end of last season,” Schleimer said. “He really ran hard in the Kalama game.”

Engholm vividly recalls that win.

“Jed and I talked about that game,” Engholm said. “I realized I could compete with these guys. That was definitely the game.”

Engholm credits Mount Baker’s program for his improvement.

“Just being around the kind of guys we have,” said the 6-foot, 168-pound Engholm, who has gained about 15 pounds since last season.

Some of Engholm’s and Schleimer’s most talented teammates play along the line, and the two running backs and Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper all said they are grateful to have a line coach as talented as Rob Brandland.

“When you talk about the running backs and linemen, Rob is such a big part of it,” said Lepper, who’s in his 21st season. “Rob does a great job.”

Mount Baker graduated several two-way standouts up front and had only two returning interior line starters from 2015 along with 266-pound tight end T.J. Bass.

Right guard Maxwell Tolman shined all last season and left tackle Gene Fleming took over as a starter midway through 2015. They have been joined by right tackle Braxton Shannon and center Michael Barton, while Luke Steeves and Will Hunter rotate at left guard.

The remarkable result, considering the unit’s relative inexperience, is 292 points in Baker’s six wins and the team’s 8.3 yards per carry.

“I feel like we’ve gotten better with every game,” Engholm said.

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