By David Pan/Lynnwood Today editor
It’s a season of change for the Meadowdale football team, starting at the very top.
The departure of former coach Mark Stewart, who left for Garfield, meant that someone new would be walking the sidelines for the first time in 13 years. That someone new happens to be a familiar face – former Lynnwood coach Mike Don, who after two seasons with the Royals, coached last year at Brewster.
Don was met with a little bit of skepticism by the players. The Central Washington graduate went 3-16 in his two seasons at Lynnwood. Don then guided Brewster to a 2-7 record.
But looks can be deceiving, according to the players.
“Looking back, he was definitely helping the program out,” said senior lineman JoJo Alkhedairy. “We knew he could coach well. He just never had the talent. So he came here with the talent.”
Following in the footsteps of the popular Stewart also generated some of the skepticism.
“We all loved Stew,” Alkhedairy said. “I think we’re getting used to it and we’re adapting well.”
Senior wide receiver/cornerback Josiah Evans agrees that Don probably never had the talent to win, as he does now.
“When he came over here he had a group of kids that knows how to win and have won before,” Evans said. “He’s really helped improve that and made us better. He’s a really good coach.”
The majority of the assistant coaching staff has stayed on, which definitely has made the transition easier.
Meadowdale will be running a new offense that will emphasize both running and passing, a significant change from Stewart’s emphasis on the ground game.
“Even though it’s a new offense, we still feel comfortable with the other coaches,” Evans said. “Our defense didn’t change. Only the offense changed. It still feels like Meadowdale football.”
Don admitted he didn’t see a lot of what Meadowdale did on offense last year since he wasn’t around.
“It’s just a different pace, a different offense, a different feel to everything,” Don said. “We’ll pretty much have a lot of different sets and formations. We’re trying to make sure our best athletes are on the field at all times.”
But make no mistake about it: “We’ll throw the ball more often,” Don said.
Evans, along with fellow seniors John Kim and Phil Thomas will be among the primary receivers.
“It’s definitely going to be better as a receiver in this offense,” Evans said. “With Stew, we ran a lot. With Don, we’re going to be passing a little more.
“We took his system in with no questions asked and we follow it.”
For Alkhedairy and the rest of the offensive line, the renewed emphasis on the passing game has meant a different focus at practice.
“It’s kind of weird up front because I’m so used to drive blocking,” he said.
Alkhedairy and his teammates have been working on what he calls “finesse blocking,” which involves more emphasis on foot and hand placement.
Who will be throwing it hasn’t been settled, though a leading candidate is senior Jerremiah Evans, who happens to be Josiah Evans’ twin brother. Jeremiah Evans saw some action at the end of last season when starter Brian Marty went down with an injury. Also vying for the starting role is junior Caleb Tingstad.
Don plans to have a starting quarterback named for league play, which starts in week four. But until then, Don may or may not name a permanent starter.
Junior Malix Braxton likely will be the Mavericks’ main running back. Braxton saw some time at quarterback last year but Don plans to use him to run the ball.
“He’s going to be really dynamite, an all-league caliber player,” Don said. “He’s quick and has got good vision.”
Don didn’t make many changes on defense. It’s the same basic structure, he said.
“We’re trying to be aggressive and make sure guys are in the right spot,” Don added.
Meadowdale has advanced to the playoffs nine out of the last 13 years with seven state appearances.
Don aims to keep the winning tradition alive.
“Great programs don’t rebuild. They reload,” he said.
- Coach: Mike Don, first season.
- Last year: 4-1 in the league, 7-3 overall; advanced to district playoffs
- Top players: Senior WR/CB Josiah Evans; senior OL/DL JoJo Alkhedairy; senior OL/DL Martzel Simmons; senior TE Phil Thomas; senior OL/DL Aaron Yared; junior RB/DB Malik Braxton.
- Opening game: Kamiak, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6 at Goddard Stadium.