Considering he is a threat to surpass 2,000 yards rushing this season, Squalicum sophomore Ben Schlenbaker might be one of the best-kept secrets in Bellingham.
By the time the 16-year-old college prospect finishes his high school career, he will have played fewer games on Whatcom County fields than any local standout in many years.
Because Squalicum and Ferndale are members of the Class 3A Wesco Conference North in football, many of Schlenbaker’s games are played in Snohomish County.
Squalicum’s game against Oak Harbor at Civic Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 26, will be only the Storm’s fourth appearance this fall on a Whatcom County turf.
For the record, the 6-foot-1½, 210-pound Storm rushing star’s legal first name is Djouvensky — he was born in Haiti — but everyone knows the personable big guy as Ben.
His last name became known in Whatcom County football circles long before his parents adopted him and expedited the situation by evacuating him two weeks after a historic earthquake struck the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 2010. Haiti shares the island with Dominican Republic.
Kendra Schlenbaker said she will never forget when she first saw Ben.
“I was on a mission trip to Haiti and I first met him when he was 18 months old,” she said, talking about how thankful she has always been that she and husband Brett Schlenbaker could bring him into their family as the youngest of four siblings.
Brett was a standout running back/defensive back at Meridian before his graduation in 1990.
Ben recalls he really was a secret in his first seven years in Bellingham, when he attended Northern Heights Elementary from kindergarten through fifth grade and spent three years at Bellingham Christian School before enrolling at Squalicum as a freshman. He promptly won a varsity letter as a freshman, playing meaningful snaps on both defense and offense in every game, as the Storm went 8-3 and qualified for the state playoffs.
“I started playing touch football when I was 6 and began playing tackle at the Boys and Girls Club when I was 8,” he said. “I was actually short and small. But before seventh grade, I grew several inches.”
“And his muscle tone really improved,” interjected his mom, Kendra Schlenbaker.
Storm coach Nick Lucey said Schlenbaker provides a special type of leadership.
“Off the field, Ben is loved by everyone, because he has this way of making people feel important,” Lucey said. “If he didn’t play a snap this year, his impact on our team would still be significant because of the way he breathes life into his teammates.”
On the field, Lucey said, Schlenbaker’s statistics speak for themselves.
Lucey happily points out that Schlenbaker scored four touchdowns (one on an interception) and gained 281 yards on 27 carries in the Storm‘s 37-14 win over Ferndale Oct. 12. Lucey said he followed with two touchdowns and 159 yards on 20 carries in a 31-12 win at Stanwood Oct. 18, giving him 17 touchdowns and more than 1,400 yards on 150 carries in the first seven games.
“Ben is a special talent physically,” Lucey said. “He’s learned to be patient this year and has a bunch of big runs because of it.”
Schlenbaker gives the credit to coaching and maturity, saying “Coach Lucey and our staff have really helped me with my running style. I have become patient, but I also still (explode) with my runs sometimes. It‘s a mixture of both.”
He says he feels especially fortunate to be on an improving young team, crediting the offensive line and junior quarterback Mason Binning with “improving every game. And we have to bring our offensive linemen donuts (when he has special games).”
His line includes Adam Morris at center, Brandon Gimse and Adam McCluskey at tackle, and Ben Paz and Bryson Lamb at guard, with Jayden Raymond also playing important minutes on the line.
If Squalicum (5-2 overall, 3-2 Wesco North) finishes third in the division, the Storm will play in Week 9 against the Wesco South third-placer in a seeding game for the district playoffs in Week 10. If the Storm finishes fourth, they will play a loser-out game against the Wesco South’s fourth-placer.
Week 8 schuedule
▪ Mount Baker at Meridian, 7 p.m.
▪ Nooksack Valley at Lynden Christian, 7 p.m.
▪ Blaine at Lynden, 7 p.m.
▪ Stanwood at Ferndale, 7 p.m.
▪ Naselle at Lummi, 5 p.m.
▪ Oak Harbor vs. Squalicum at Civic Stadium, 7 p.m.