Only 15 months ago at Lynden High, Grant VanderYacht figured he would have to answer a call for a long snapper to see the varsity field as a junior.
Kobe Elsner, now a fellow senior wide receiver/defensive back, was well aware he would need to become as skilled in football as he already was in basketball to see the end zone.
Talk about hard work paying off as well as possible.
In a matchup of explosive 12-0 teams, Lynden will challenge defending state champion Hockinson for the Class 2A title at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
Elsner and VanderYacht, who have developed into two of the most reliable big-play skill players in the Northwest Conference, may be more important than ever.
“Hockinson passes 68 percent of the time,” Lynden coach Blake VanDalen said.
It only seems the more balanced Lions throw that often with alternating quarterbacks James Marsh and Brock Heppner, who are 64 yards away from combining for 3,000 yards passing and rushing.
But, as Elsner said, “Numbers don’t mean anything. The only thing that really matters is winning.”
This wisdom comes from a cool competitor with touchdowns of 20, 45, 49, 74 and 15 yards among 10 catches for 290 yards in a string of four elimination games. He also has tied the school record with seven interceptions.
The 6-foot, 170-pound athlete knows all about winning. Elsner served as an increasingly adept playmaker at point guard as the Lions won the 2A state basketball title last season after he helped them to the third-place trophy while starting as a sophomore.
This is the first shot at a state football title for all the Lions, who resemble the 2006 team in that regard. That team, which began a string of six state titles in eight seasons, also had no one who had played in a state final.
At 5-10 and 170 pounds, VanderYacht has earned a reputation as one of the team’s hardest workers in the weight room.
He is as appreciative of his state shot as anyone. It’s a special opportunity, indeed, to long snap for one of the state’s best kickers, junior Marko Samoukovic. Samoukovic is 47 for 48 on conversions and has eight field goals (his other two attempts were blocked), with VanderYacht snapping and Elijah VanderHaak holding for all of them.
“The coaches asked for players to try out at long snapper,” VanderYacht said of winning the job near the start of his junior year. “I just wanted some varsity time. Then I was playing varsity only on a special teams, so I had a lot of time to work on long snapping.”
“Grant has been fantastic as our long snapper,” VanDalen said of the ambitious kid who had no experience there but didn’t hesitate to answer the call. “But one of our coaches, Zach Vis, suggested to me that he deserved a shot at playing last year with two games left in the league season.”
VanderYacht got that shot and played well in all three games, including a 23-21 loss to Tumwater in a state tournament opener.
Since that disappointment, which dropped the Lions to 5-6 last year, they have emerged as a much-improved team that hopes to end Hockinson’s 26-game win streak.
“If anything, I feel less pressure snapping, because I know Marko can put it through the uprights,” said VanderYacht, who has 38 catches for 627 yards and scored a key 20-yard touchdown against Tumwater among seven catches for 102 yards in the Lions’ 28-27 win in the quarterfinals.
Likewise, Elsner said his experiences in state basketball have helped a lot in football.
“I’m probably not as nervous as I might be,” said Elsner, who has nine touchdowns this season.
Both players said they get a lot of support from their parents, Mike and Chris Elsner and Joel and Missy VanderYacht.
“I feel like the support we receive in Lynden is like nothing we would have anywhere else,” Elsner said . “It’s really awesome support from the community,”