The Meadowdale football team is sporting a new look from top to bottom this season.
On the field, the Mavericks graduated most of their starters – 18 – on both sides of the ball from last year’s state playoff team. But the biggest change came at the top with the hiring of Matt Leonard as head coach. Leonard, previously at Foster High School in Tukwila for two years, replaced Mike Don, who left to take a position at Eastmont High School in East Wenatchee.
“I think the transition was a really good one,” Leonard said. “With Mike leaving and not having a coach for so long, they were just really ready to go when I got the job. They are really open and receptive to everything. They had a really solid spring and a really good team camp.”
Because of so many changes on the field and on the sidelines, Leonard and the players have heard some chatter that this might be the year that the Mavericks, who have advanced to the playoffs for five straight years, possibly might be headed for a down season.
Leonard and the players aren’t buying such talk.
“That’s never really been in my approach,” Leonard said. “They’re really motivated. They’re getting the opportunity to play. There are a lot of new names out there. A lot of them are upper classmen. They know how to win. The kids are excited to get out there and show what they can do.”
Co-captain Bailey Walsh agrees.
“We’re going to have a great year,” Walsh predicted. “We’re going to play to the best of our abilities and give it our all.”
Meadowdale faces a tough test in its season opener against 4A non-conference opponent Lake Stevens at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 4 at Edmonds Stadium. Viking quarterback Jacob Eason was one of the most highly recruited quarterbacks in the nation. Eason ended up signing with the University of Georgia.
“It’s a great opportunity to make a statement about who we are,” Leonard said of going against Lake Stevens, who advanced to the 4A state playoffs last year. “We have nothing to lose. We’re going to play hard, aggressive. On Sept. 5 we’ll know who good we are.”
Meadowdale’s new starting quarterback Drew Tingstad, younger brother of last year’s starter Caleb Tingstad, sees Friday’s game as a good opportunity to lay it all out there.
“They have a great quarterback,” he said. “But we like our guys.”
Friday’s game will be the first game Tingstad has started, but he feels he’s been well-prepared by watching and talking with Caleb.
Leonard noted that Tingstad won the starting quarterback role at team camp this summer. Being a first-year starter, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior is going to face a learning curve and have his ups and downs, Leonard said. However so far Tingstad has done everything that’s been asked of him.
“He understands the offense. He understands coverages,” Leonard said. “He’s done a great job. He’s a very bright kid. He’s a next level kid. He can play at quarterback.”
Leonard has brought changes to the Meadowdale offense. This season the Mavericks will run an up-tempo, no huddle, University of Oregon type of offense.
Walsh, a lineman, likes the changes.
“I feel like this is a good offense for us,” he said. “Our tempo is up. Our intensity is up.”
Opposing defenses aren’t going to know what the Meadowdale offense is going to run.
“The offense is very open minded,” Tingstad said. “We’re going to do a lot of things – run the ball, throw the ball, stretch the field, run up the middle, throw it long – the offense is very unlimited.”
The Mavericks graduated one of the most dynamic players in wide receiver Malik Braxton, but Leonard sees plenty of talent at wide receiver. Returning starter senior Harry White figures to be one of Tingstad’s prime targets.
“He’s a special athlete,” Leonard said of White. “That kid can be as good as he wants to be.”
White should have a strong supporting cast with Nick Navlet and Nicholas Chavez.
“This might be the most talented receiving corps that I’ve ever coached,” Leonard said.
The backfield will be a committee of running backs led by Hawaii transfer Kela Marshall and Tyree Carson. Meadowdale doesn’t have a feature back but plans to roll out a bunch of guys, Leonard said.
The offensive line just might be the strength of the team with Walsh, CJ Lewis and Lucas Hummel, all of whom are co-captains.
“We’re going to be just fine up front,” Leonard said.
Leonard anticipates that the offense is going to be a work in progress, especially at the start of the season. He noted that the team is learning its third offense in four years.
“It might take some time to gel,” he said.
Tingstad, however, already has seen significant progress. When the players first got together, the Maverick offense had a lot of new parts and things were all jumbled, he said.
“As time narrowed down, we’re really focused on a core group we can trust,” Tingstad said.
The defense will be led by senior middle linebacker Tyler Ruby and senior free safety Nick Navlet. Marshall also will be playing a key role at linebacker. A new face on the sidelines on defense is Leonard’s father, Al Leonard, a long-time assistant coach at Bothell High School. The Cougars won the 4A state title last year.
The coach’s father will be bringing another set of eyes to an already experienced defensive coaching staff.
“He just has so much knowledge,” Matt Leonard said of his father. “Everything they do over in Bothell, they do the right way.”
After two and a half weeks, Leonard and the Mavericks are ready to kick off the season.
“I think the players are really excited to hit somebody else other than navy blue (teammates),” Leonard said.
— By David Pan