On paper, the 2021-22 Mossyrock football team looks like a formidable force.
Having 10 to 12 returners with significant varsity experience, including seven starters, is a big advantage in 8-man football. But second-year coach Eric Ollikainen knows better than to give in to preseason hype.
“I always tell my kids, ‘football isn’t played on paper,’” Ollikainen said. “Potential is a dirty word. Looks like we have some potential and some returning kids but until we put in the work and do something, it doesn’t mean anything.”
As the Vikings navigate the Class 1B ranks for just the second year, the road to the playoffs will not be paved with gold. In week one, they travel four-plus hours to face a Lummi team that advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2019. They’ll also have to contend with the reigning league champs, a Naselle team that placed second in state in 2019.
But with 20 to 22 players on the roster this year, Ollikainen has plenty of options to work with. Naselle went 6-0 last season with just 14 kids.
“You just need the right eight,” Mossyrock coach Eric Ollikainen said.
The biggest question mark right now is who will replace last year’s starting quarterback Aiden West, who’s since graduated. One of the frontrunners for that job is junior Keegan Kolb, a multi-sport athlete who also had some reps under last year.
“We’ve got other guys but it’s not really a battle,” Ollikainen said. “We have to find the best place for our weapons. Keegan’s also a great receiver and he’s really good with the ball in his hands, so we have to decide where we’re gonna plug him in and where he’s gonna help the best. But, yeah, he definitely could be our quarterback.”
Ollikainen plans to run a balanced offense this season, utilizing the run and the pass to keep defenses off-kilter. The Vikings return senior first-team all-league halfback Matteo Mendoza, who ran for 349 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries, averaging 7.4 yards a pop.
Another ball carrier will be sophomore Marshall Brockway, who saw time at center and fullback last year. He’s slimmed down a bit and should be a force with the ball. Junior Sage “Savage” Grieson, who was a first-team defensive lineman last season, will also get some carries.
“We’ve got some talented running backs, so we’re going to keep the backs in the backfield but we’re not going to be afraid to throw the ball around either,” Ollikainen said.
Whoever ends up slinging the ball will no doubt be targeting 6-foot-4 senior Gunner Mulligan, who was a first-team all-league selection at both wideout and defensive back.
On the defensive side, there’s no real standard front or coverage in 8-man ball.
“We’ll be gap-sound,” Ollikainen said. “In high school football, and 8-man particularly, you’ve got to stop the run. We’ll try to stop the run first and no one can beat us over the top.”
Another impact player could be senior lineman Ryan Haenke, who transferred to Mossyrock last year after bouncing around from a few different schools in the Seattle and Vancouver areas.
“He’s a really big kid and might be pretty dangerous,” Ollikainen said.
Also returning is senior Kainen Zavodsky, a first-team all-league defensive lineman who tallied 22 tackles and three sacks. Grieson, who added 17 tackles and one scoop and score, will join him on the line.
The Vikings are coming off a 3-2 overall season, their first in 8-man after dropping down to Class 1B in 2020. The season included three consecutive wins and both losses coming to state powerhouse Naselle in the season opener and finale. The Comets were fresh off a 1B state title game appearance.
Ollikainen said moving down to class 1B last year was a big learning process, most of it technical stuff. It was eye-opening how high scoring the games can get. One missed tackle can turn into a touchdown.
“I learned a whole lot,” Ollikainen said. “There’s some things you need to be aware of going into 8-man football. I did my homework last year but you don’t really know what it’s like until you’re into the thick of it. It’s offensive-oriented and a fun brand of football.”
Mossyrock begins its season with a long road trip to face Lummi, located about 30 miles south of the Canadian border in Whatcom County. Ollikainen expects his team to be sound schematically and ready to battle in week one.
“Like any team, we want to be known for being physical,” Ollikainen said. “That’s the name of the game, whether it’s blocking or tackling. We have to be physical and be aggressive and get after it.”