Blaine head football coach Jay Dodd has a system. Players earn their way to a starting spot on varsity by going through that system.
Going through the process can seem interminable but the fruit of it is that despite the inevitable turnover from graduation and being one of the smallest 2A schools in the state, the results show the Borderites are consistently strong and competitive as is demonstrated by their three consecutive state playoff appearances. Now it is Sean Allen’s turn.
“It’s awesome,” the senior quarterback said, “I’ve been waiting for this forever, it seems.”
The wait will end officially Friday night as Allen leads the Borderites in their home opener, a non-conference tilt against Notre Dame of B.C.
One thing is certain. It will be an entirely new style and type of team than coach Dodd has sent out on the field before here.
Blaine lost 25 seniors to graduation, including the three-headed monster of Caleb Statham, Jordon McCarty, and Trevor Chau on offense, as well as, ferocious linebacker Joel Garza. Still, Dodd is highly expectant about the Borderites opportunity this season.
“The 2010 Borderites will be a completely different team than 2009,” said Dodd in an e-mail, “(but) there is no reason to think we can’t return to the state playoffs. It’ll be a different league with new challenges but we should always have that as an expectation for the program.”
Long a conservative offense led by strong rushers like Statham and Casey McCabe before him, Dodd has installed a new offense that is centered around the passing game and Allen’s right arm.
In a scrimmage played Saturday, August 27, Allen consistently found wide receivers Andrew Miller and Todd Bird running free in a variety of formations.
Die-hard fans will most keenly notice the addition of an H-back that will serve as either a blocker or a receiver. However, the most compelling aspect of the passing game may be the addition of Andrew Price, a 6’6” tight end with soft hands that can run.
“Andrew Price is a target and a half,” gushed an expectant Allen, after hitting the huge target with several medium range passes that defenders were too overmatched to cover and one stunning seam route that saw Price running free.
The new offense will feature the quarterback rolling out more often. Allen has a smooth motion and a strong arm, throwing a pretty ball especially on medium to deep seam routes.
One characteristic of the Borderites that will not change from previous years will be the physical nature of their play that enables them to play toe to toe with larger schools like Ferndale.
“We should be very physical this year,” Dodd said, “I think we have tough, hard-nosed kids at Blaine.”
As an exclamation point to that belief, Blaine will let loose the largest offensive line yet in the Dodd era, led by 280-pound Channing Crews. Carlo Serrano, who Dodd noted was one of the hardest working players in the weight room, tabbed to play center, is 190 pounds and very strong. Eddie Avena checks in at 235; Palmer Sandel, 240; huge Jesse Antcak, 295; Jesse Niewendorp, 210; and James Fakkema, 205.
“Our size is good but, surprisingly, it’s good size,” Dodd explained. “Most heavy high school offensive linemen don’t move very well. There first step is quick and in the right direction, so they get a good head start on the defensive linemen.”
Despite the focus on the passing game, the offensive line will be asked to not only to protect Allen, but to open up holes for a new battery of running backs for the Borderites.
At the scrimmage Saturday, Tyler Chau and Mario Gabbato excelled. Chau is bigger with a low center of gravity for running with a more physical style. Gabbato is a quick, darting back and is shifty in the hole.
Last season, the potent offense was complemented by sometimes dominant, physical defense led by Garza. Dodd sees a host of playmakers coming up to bring more havoc to opposing offenses.
“Tyler Chau and Sheldon Hicks are going to be very good defensive ends,” Dodd said. “Parker Wallace is going to be a good cornerback for us. He has good ball skills and understands our coverages. Andy Vellanueva and James Fakkama should be very good defensive linemen. They are both very explosive off the ball and have good motors.”
Caleb Johnson has emerged at inside linebacker and could be the force there that Garza was last year.
Still, all eyes will be on Allen who has received nothing but lauds from his coach.
“Sean is super smart and a great competitor,” Dodd reiterated. “I’ve seen these characteristics in him for years. But one thing that Sean doesn’t get enough credit for is his arm strength. His arm strength is as good as anyone I’ve seen here at Blaine.”
The schedule offers a bit of a soft landing for Allen in the non-conference game with Notre Dame, before the Northwest conference (NWC) schedule gets underway in earnest with a road game against Squalicum. The game everyone has circled on the calendar, against Lynden, is September 17.
The schedule offers no favors either as the Borderites reward for returning home will be a rematch with 3A Ferndale; a Golden Eagles team that will be angry and resolved after Blaine dashed their season along with their home winning streak last year.
Perhaps the most interesting opportunity on the schedule though is the October 8 contest at Burlington-Edison, the early season favorite in the NWC 2A.
Allen’s expectations are optimistic.
“I think our chances are pretty good,” Allen said, “I’m pretty stoked to get going.”
When asked about his thoughts on a conference favorite, coach Dodd was a little more coy.
“I think our kids have been waiting for their opportunity to play on Friday night,” Dodd said. “They’re hungry to show the town what they can do. The guys who will be playing will be very talented. This year’s team is a hard working group of kids, and they’re motivated to improve. We should be very tough to beat on Fridays.”
Photos by Jerry Huls