High School Football

Meridian’s ‘small’ and ‘slow’ again; sounds like Ames has a pretty good squad

Meridian’s Simon Burkett throws a pass during practice Aug. 22.
Meridian’s Simon Burkett throws a pass during practice Aug. 22. eabell@bhamherald.com

The old adage around the 1A Northwest Conference when it comes to getting a scouting report out of legendary football coach Bob Ames goes that the more he talks down his team – the more he grouses about them being too small or too slow – the better the team he has.

When Trojans fans finally hear something positive about their boys in black and gold other than “they’re nice kids,” that’s when they know it’s time to worry.

Well, don’t fret about 2017, Meridian faithful – Bob Ames didn’t give away anything during preseason preparations. In fact, he may have even coached his seniors on the art of talking down the team and dodging questions.

“I couldn’t tell you what’s going to go on this year,” senior lineman Manny Sabalza said. “We’re going to take it week-by-week from here.”

Simon Burkett and Tony Schleimer were equally tight lipped, though Ames did offer a few gems lamenting the size of his team.

“They have to think of themselves as football players and not small kids,” he said, “and they need to continue to work hard, know their job and do their job. It’s going to be crucial for us not to get lost in the cleat holes on the field. We don’t play anybody on turf this year, and that’s unfortunate. If somebody’s missing at night, they’re likely to turn up with the earth worms.”

0901 Meridian FOOT graphic (2)

While the thought of Ames and his staff checking cleat holes before they turn off the lights on Friday nights is quite a vision, the fact of the matter is Meridian is coming off a season that saw it advance to state for the second straight year and the 23rd time in program history. The Trojans advanced to the Class 1A state quarterfinals before losing to Connell, which finished runner-up to Royal.

They return the co-1A Northwest Conference Player of the Year in Burkett, who has already committed to play for Eastern Washington beginning in the fall of 2018. He threw for 2,623 yards and 20 touchdowns last year and rushed for 618 yards and 12 more scores.

“Simon is doing fine,” Ames said. “He’s learned a lot. Rob and Heidi (his parents) have sacrificed a lot in order to send him around to all these camps, and it’s paid off.”

Burkett participated in was the Northwest 9 in early August in Kirkland, where he was ranked the third-best high school quarterback in the region.

Ames said all the offseason work has paid off, and he’s seen Burkett’s throwing motion improve, as he emphasizes movement in his trunk, rather than his arm, using his whole body to throw.

We will be the smallest. We’ve been the smallest before. We just need to work hard.

Meridian coach Bob Ames

Bob Ames
Bob Ames THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

“The main thing with Simon is we’ve got to keep him clean,” Ames said. “We just lost a good group of linemen. We’re going to have to get this next group up to speed.”

Sabalza likely will play a big role in that, as he is a returner up front on what truly is a smaller line than Meridian is accustomed. Ames said Trevor Pagnossin and Adam Kruzich should play big roles.

“We’re not going to be the biggest group up front, so it’s going to be all about fundamentals,” Burkett said.

Once Meridian does get its line settled, even Ames admits, “We’re all right at the specialties.” In fact, the Trojans return their top four rushers and three of their top four receivers from last season.

Leading the way on the ground will be Schleimer, the nephew of the family of running backs at Mount Baker. He rushed for 765 yards and 11 TDs as a junior, and Cole Roberts and Bryce Vandenhaak also chipped in last year.

TJ Dykstra led the Trojans’ receiving corps with 805 yards and seven TDs, while Schleimer and Lukas Hemenway also provided good targets for Burkett. Ames said a couple of sophomores also will see playing time.

Defensively, Meridian is also going to have to fill in some holes, though Ames said the team will lean on Sabalza, Schleimer and Kruzich.

14 Times Meridian has advanced to the state playoffs since 2000. The only years the Trojans missed were 2005, ’08 and ’14.

“I’m hoping we’re going to be a lot more disciplined, because we’re not going to have the size we had last year,” Schleimer said. “We need to execute on defense. Our defense wasn’t necessarily bad last year, but we need to work on our coverage. Everybody needs to work on their tackling. I think if we can do that, we can be successful.”

Wait a minute, did somebody just say Meridian would be successful?

“We’ll play hard,” Ames said. “Our backs are up against the wall. We’re the fourth best team in the league, right now, but we’ve got some of the nicest guys.”

There it is ... whew, that was close.

2017 schedule

Date

Opponent

Time

Sept. 1

at Anacortes

7 p.m.

Sept. 8

at Blaine

7 p.m.

Sept. 15

Cascade Christian

7 p.m.

Sept. 22

at Lynden Christian*

7 p.m.

Sept. 29

Nooksack Valley*

7 p.m.

Oct. 6

Mount Baker*

7 p.m.

Oct. 13

Lynden Christian*

7 p.m.

Oct. 20

at Nooksack Valley*

7 p.m.

Oct. 27

at Mount Baker*

7 p.m.

*NWC 1A game

2016 results

Date

Opponent

Time

Sept. 2

Anacortes

W 33-7

Sept. 9

Blaine

L 45-35

Sept. 17

at Cascade Christian

L 34-33

Sept. 23

Lynden Christian*

34-30

Sept. 30

at Nooksack Valley*

L 47-34

Oct. 7

at Mount Baker*

L 41-28

Oct. 17

at Lynden Christian*

W 33-28

Oct. 21

Nooksack Valley*

W 47-20

Oct. 28

Mount Baker*

L 49-7

CLASS 1A NORTHWEST DISTRICT PLAYOFFS

Nov. 5

King’s

W 17-14

CLASS 1A STATE PLAYOFFS

Nov. 12

Cascade Christian

W 34-21

Nov. 19

at Connell

L 56-21

*NWC 1A game

2017 roster

No.

Player

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

Pos.

1

Dawson Logan

5-10

150

Jr.

QB

2

Cameron Webster

5-0

145

So.

TE

3

Dante Castaneda

5-4

130

Jr.

RB

4

Jake Cheney

5-6

125

Sr.

RB

5

Cole Roberts

5-6

145

Jr.

RB

8

Bryce Vandenhaak

5-7

150

Sr.

RB

12

Matthew Belanger

5-9

165

Sr.

TE

13

Simon Burkett

5-0

165

Sr.

QB

14

Harlon Stuit

5-10

135

Jr.

WR

16

Alex Carrillo

5-5

140

Jr.

RB

20

Josh Neeter

5-6

140

Jr.

WR

21

Lukas Hemenway

5-6

150

Sr.

WR

22

Trent Martin

5-5

140

So.

RB

29

Dylan Watt

5-6

135

So.

RB

31

Baker Otter

5-5

160

Sr.

TE

32

Tony Schleimer

5-9

160

Sr.

RB

33

Dylan Hickok

5-9

150

Jr.

RB

44

Bryson Hickok

5-5

125

Sr.

RB

45

Tanner Bouwman

5-6

130

Jr.

RB

50

Enrique Gomez

5-5

135

Jr.

C

52

Tyler Bull

5-10

165

So.

OL

54

Elijah Guzman

5-9

160

So.

OL

61

Manny Sabalza

5-6

150

Sr.

C

65

Trevor Pagnossin

5-11

160

Jr.

TE

66

Jurshawn Pina-Wilson

5-5

140

Jr.

OL

70

Nathan Rutledge

5-9

180

Fr.

OL

71

Joseph Plagerman

5-11

185

So.

OL

72

Zeke Thompson

5-0

190

So.

OL

74

Hesser Sotello

5-10

165

Jr.

OL

75

Sam Brooks

5-0

195

So.

OL

77

Adam Kruzich

5-11

175

Jr.

T

81

TJ Dykstra

5-10

140

Sr.

WR

85

Trent Gookstetter

5-11

155

So.

TE

88

Luke Gookstetter

5-10

135

Sr.

WR

89

Kevin Galiano

5-9

140

So.

WR

99

Taylor Snook

5-8

140

NA

TE/K

2016 statistical leaders

Rushing

Player

Att.

Yards

Avg.

TD

Tony Schleimer*

169

765

4.5

11

Simon Burkett*

118

618

5.2

12

Cole Roberts*

80

425

5.3

6

Bryce Vandenhaak*

33

243

7.4

0

Andrew Logan

10

66

6.6

0

Passing

Player

Cmp.

Att.

Yards

TD

Int.

Simon Burkett*

208

367

2,623

20

12

Receiving

Player

Rec.

Yards

Avg.

TD

TJ Dykstra*

55

805

14.6

7

Andrew Logan

46

578

12.6

6

Tony Schleimer*

40

485

12.1

3

Lukas Hemenway*

21

191

9.1

1

Dawson Phillips

20

240

12.0

2

*Returning player

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