The players at Lakes High School know they probably don’t have the same level of talent as rival Lincoln in the Class 3A Pierce County League.
But Lakes’ toughness and grit topped pure talent in last year’s PCL title game, with the Lancers scoring a convincing 42-24 win over the Abes on Oct. 19.
“We know they have a little more talent than us, but we work harder at practice every day,” said wide receiver and nickelback Jaedon Hall. “We always bring the heat, we don’t care who they have.”
It was Lakes’ first league title since 2012. And for a program that has prided itself on being physical over the course of Dave Miller’s 20-year stint as the Lancers head coach, Lincoln had been getting the better of Lakes.
“You have a team that’s been a little bit of a bully, you have to go after them that way,” Miller said. “Lincoln has been really good. Coach (Masaki Matsumoto) has done a great job getting that program disciplined. … But we take a lot pride (in winning the league). That was an emphasis the team had. After not having it for a while, it was nice to win it again.”
Lakes will need to replace its quarterback, PCL offensive player of the year Liam Bladow, after he graduated in the spring. Curtis transfer Justin Brennan will get the nod for the Lancers this season.
“As soon as I got here, they all treated me like family,” Brennan said. “I’m really confident. Just working on leadership, leading these boys on the right path and hopefully win a state championship this year.”
Bladow put up big numbers last season, but was limited in his mobility. Brennan gives the team more of a dual-threat look.
“He’s super athletic, can run, has a great arm,” Miller said. “He’s accurate, tough, he’s a leader.”
Hall said he’s seen nothing but good things from his new QB.
“He puts the heat on it,” Hall said. “I can trust that he’s going to get it there every time. He’s pretty consistent.”
Perhaps the most difficult piece to replace for Lakes will be at the running back position, replacing Khalil Lewis, the PCL’s offensive back of the year.
“Those kids had a mentality last year, and Khalil Lewis was a big part of that,” Miller said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a team where one guy was the alpha male. When he was on the field, all of our kids stood taller and were more physical.”
Lakes will use a host of running backs to replace some of that production, including sophomore Devon Nofoa-Masoe, who will also play linebacker.
Lakes’ front seven should be a strong point of the team, with a young but capable defensive line and a strong linebackers corps, led by Nofoa-Masoe, J.J. Niuamoa and Jaydon McMillon.
“We have a lot of returning guys and have depth at almost every position,” McMillion said. “We vibe different than we did last year. We have a bigger chip on our shoulder than we did last year. We just want to go out every week, start the season strong and punch them in the mouth, make them feel you before they can come back and retaliate.”