Near the end of a late-morning football practice Monday at Lakes High School, an endless stream of puffy dark clouds moved in over 11-on-11 drills.
An ominous sign for Lancers’ opponents in 2007?
It could be.
This is arguably Lakes’ most talented squad in coach Dave Miller’s eight seasons. He has super-talent Kavario Middleton, the state’s top NCAA Division I recruit, back on the field. He’s 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. He makes the tough catches, high and low. He sheds blockers. He punishes whoever gets in his path to the target.
Miller has speed in receivers Jermaine Kearse – a big name in the Western Cascades Conference last season, and also a Div. I recruit – and Tony Thomas, the most versatile weapon nobody has heard of (he’s also a cornerback, placekicker and punter).
To flank Middleton, the line has 6-foot-2, 255-pound Tupou Manaea (recently sidelined by a knee injury) and 6-foot, 240-pound Tuiasosopo Niusulu. Yes, he is part of the football-famous Tuiasosopo clan.
Then comes the rash of transfers. Calvin Schmidtke was a 3,000-yard, 46-touchdown passer at Life Christian Academy last season. He takes over the helm of an extremely complicated and scary-good passing attack at Lakes.
Watson Togiailua was a quarterback at Auburn Mountainview. He’ll play anywhere from safety, to receiver, to even quarterback on select downs.
Brandon Jimenez was Mount Tahoma’s quarterback in 2005, and would have been one of that program’s best players had he stayed. He will play two ways, too.
"I don’t know if we’ve had this many playmakers," Miller said. "Usually if you have two or three, you’re pretty excited. I think we have six or seven."
Miller isn’t resting on laurels, or reputation. He’s given the talented players, the hopeful starters and the reserves plenty to chew on starting this week. He’s added a few more wrinkles in an expansive playbook.
Schmidtke appears to have taken on a huge leadership role, even as a first-year Lakes starter. In drills with three talented but raw 10th-graders as his backups, Schmidtke takes the reins and shows how it’s done correctly.
Not all goes well. On an 11-on-11 play, Schmidtke goes through his progressions facing a blitz, instead of firing to his No. 1 option – Middleton – who happens to be open. Schmidtke gets sacked as a result.
"You can’t take five steps," Miller calmly tells him. Schmidtke nods his head, and doesn’t miss a beat the rest of the session.
At this juncture, it’s as much about second-team spots as it is getting the playmakers up to speed.
Midway through practice, Miller declares an ultimatum: "Competition for jobs is right now."
It works. When a second-team noseguard doesn’t report in for a play, defensive coordinator Jason Silbaugh asks for a replacement – anybody – to get on the field. An undersized junior varsity player, who couldn’t be more than 150 pounds, sprinted on the field for his chance, beating two big guys to face one-play punishment.
That wasn’t really the point – his effort was.
"Our scout team puts a work on us," Kearse said. "That’s how a whole program gets better."
— Todd Milles