Depth of experience is at a premium in Northwest Conference football, but that didn’t prevent most of the coaches from citing at least one or two top returning players.
The best of the returnees include all-state Ferndale lineman Geirean Hatchett, who has signed with the University of Washington; Lynden quarterback/defensive end Brock Heppner and kicker Marko Samoukovic; Meridian kicker/receiver Kevin Galiano; Sehome quarterback Jacob Kaepernick; and Lynden Christian quarterback Trajan Schouten and running back Levi Korthuis. But there are at least one or two honors candidates on every team.
Here’s a team-by-team look at some of the notables:
An’dre Triplett, the league’s only new head football coach, takes over for Ted Flint, who stepped down after guiding a rebuilt program to a 5-4 finish overall and 4-1 in the Lakes Division. Triplett has a gem in senior running back Jack Fields, a first team all-league linebacker and second-team all-league running back.
If Fields (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) stays healthy — he has recovered from a season-ending leg injury in the last regular-season game — he figures to bid for all-state honors.
Triplett also said returning starting senior quarterback Morgan Cavalier (6-2, 185 pounds) and senior guard/defensive tackle Julian Donohue (6-1, 286) are much improved and figure to have big seasons.
Veteran coach Jay Dodd is excited over the potential of returning senior linemen Gavino Rodriguez (6-0, 205) and Wyatt Cole (6-2, 270). Rodriguez plays guard and linebacker and Cole is a top-notch offensive and defensive lineman.
“They’re really promising,” Dodd said. “They both made first-team all-league as a juniors after making second team all-league as sophomores.”
Blaine’s leader is returning senior quarterback Will McKinney (6-3, 190), who completed 86 of 191 passes for 904 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Borderites (5-5, 2-3) convinced Dodd to move up to the Sky Division, which is officially designated the stronger of the two Class 2A leagues.
“Will has put on 20-25 pounds and has more zip on the ball,” Dodd said. “We’re facing the most difficult schedule we’ve ever had.”
Hatchett (6-5, 255) is off to fine start after committing to UW.
“You can sure tell he’s a four-year varsity player,” 16-year Golden Eagles (4-6, 3-3) coach Jamie Plenkovich said.
Also hoping to help Ferndale return to the Class 3A state playoffs is returning two-way senior starter Jacob Broselle (5-11, 180), who will again play wing and cornerback.
Colby Tegt, a senior who earned a varsity letter last year, also is being counted on to bolster the line for the inexperienced Eagles.
Heppner (6-2, 200), an outstanding performer and leader at quarterback and defensive end, was one of the state’s best juniors while helping the Lions (12-1, 4-0) reach the state 2A championship game before losing to Hockinson 42-37 in a thriller. He’ll be leaned on more than ever since the Lions lost 18 of 22 offensive and defensive starters.
Heppner, who is a third-year starter, completed 49 of 91 passes for 957 yards and nine touchdowns, rushed 103 times for 441 yards and 10 scores and caught 24 passes for 263 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. He also recorded 50 tackles, 45 assists, four sacks and two interceptions on defense.
As a junior, Samoukovic (6-1, 175) made nine field goals and 50 extra points and only missed one of each. He’s also been invited to an kicking exhibition that will be held this December in Texas.
Senior inside linebacker Bodie Human (5-9, 185) comes off an all-state season in which he chalked up 90 tackles and 70 assists.
“Bodie’s a tackling machine,” third-year coach Blake Van Dalen said. “He’s a real warrior and just works so hard.”
Longtime coach Dan Kaemingk guided the Lions (10-3, 4-2) to the state 1A semifinals in their best season since 2002.
Two of his best, quarterback Trajan Schouten (6-2, 190) and running back Levi Korthuis (5-10, 185), may well bid for all-state honors.
“They’ve consistently been leaders in the weight room,” Kaemingk said. “We’re really happy with them. Trajan was around 2,000 yards passing and 20 touchdowns, and Levi went over 1,000 yards rushing.”
Kaemingk also expects much from returning senior receiver/defensive tackle Zach Sipma (6-1, 230).
“Zach is an interesting combination of wide receiver and defensive tackle,” Kaemingk said. “He has real good quickness off the ball.”
Ron Lepper, in his 24th year as head coach, has an all-state tight end in 6-3, 194-pound senior Waylon Kentner, who caught five touchdown passes, and a returning rushing leader in senior Jason Lee (6-0, 181), who gained more than 1,000 yards.
They are his only returnees on offense. Senior linebacker/running back Mark Tikhonov (5-10, 166) joins them as a returner on defense.
“It’s one of our most inexperienced teams,” said Lepper, whose team (8-5, 3-3) and the state playoffs. “Our goal is to qualify for the playoffs and see what happens.”
For his 20th season with the Pioneers (5-5, 1-5), coach Robb Myhre has three standout senior returnees: Cole Eldridge (6-0, 185), now at quarterback instead of running back; Ryan Veening (6-2, 205), who was a standout in Nooksack’s win over Mount Baker; and Easton Zylstra (6-2, 210) who in in his third season as a starter on the offensive and defensive lines.
“(Eldridge is) a strong runner, just a real athlete, one of our strongest kids and one of the hardest working in the weight room,” Myhre said. “He has a great arm and is learning the system well. He‘s growing every day.”
Last year the Pioneers finished fourth in the ultra-competitive NWC 1A and out of the playoffs.
Second-year coach Kevin Beason and his staff worked wonders, as the Mariners surged to 7-4, 4-1 while sharing the Lakes Division title.
“We return five starters on each side,” Beason said. “No question, we’re a much younger squad.”
Junior quarterback Jacob Kaepernick, who passed for 25 touchdowns and close to 2,500 yards, is a strapping all-round athlete.
Beason also lists senior linebacker/running back Dawson Smith and senior offensive and defensive lineman Rylie Bair as outstanding returnees.
“Rylie is a big, strong kid with very good feet, strong, smart with good hands. He’s the complete package,” Beason said. “Dawson just continues to be a rock on defense and runs very hard on offense.”
Coach Nick Lucey said the defending Wesco 3A North champion Storm (8-3, 5-1) won’t have all-league linebacker Collin McEachran, who suffered a shoulder injury in lacrosse.
But the Storm will have returning senior linemen Brandon Gimse (6-6, 315) and Adam McCluskey (6-4, 225), whom Lucey considers outstanding prospects.
Junior quarterback Mason Binning (6-1, 170) gained backup experience as a sophomore.
“Mason has a lot of potential — a high ceiling,” Lucey said. “He throws a real catchable ball and is a natural leader.”
Five questions for 2019
▪ Will Squalicum improve enough with a younger team to repeat as Wesco 3A North champion?
▪ Can Lynden develop enough help for its returning stars to make another deep run in the 2A state playoffs?
▪ Will Blaine, one of the most improved teams in 2018, compete well in its first season of the 2A Sky Division?
▪ Will Sehome develop the receivers needed to replace the graduated standouts who helped make Jacob Kaepernick so effective?
▪ Will Lynden Christian develop the caliber of talent that Trajan Schouten and Levi Korthuis will need for support?