Two years ago, the Everett Vikings didn’t win a game. They scored just over 11 points per contest and scored six or less points four times to finish 0-9.
Last year, Everett lost 17-16 in double overtime in its fourth game of the season to Holt. A tough loss, but it set into motion a stretch of solid football from mid-September on.
The Vikings played their last five games 3-2, with a signature win over a previously unbeaten Grand Ledge team in the seventh week of last season.
“When we beat Grand Ledge, we knew we were going to be good the next year,” senior running back and linebacker James Mills said. “They were supposed to be like No. 1 in the state, but we came out to play.”
The groundwork had been laid with the way the Vikings wrapped up 2011. With 15 starters returning to the team this year, Everett was tabbed the preseason favorite in the CAAC Blue by the coaches — and the Vikings are off to a 3-0 start.
“It was a positive for our young men. They really wanted to improve for those last games and they decided that they were going to work really hard. The last part of the season went really well for them and they truly felt it was a building block,” Everett coach Marcelle Carruthers said.
They’ll have a shot to avenge last season’s double-OT loss to the Rams tonight.
“I think over the course of time, they’ve gotten a lot better. They kept a lot of those kids in the program,” Holt coach Al Slamer said of the Vikings.
Everett came into the season with 17 seniors listed on the preseason roster, much more experience than they’ve had the previous three years.
“We had a couple weaknesses, but the main thing was there wasn’t anyone leading us,” Mills said of his prior seasons on varsity. “We’ve got a lot of seniors and that’s why we’re where we’re at.”
“If you don’t have a lot of seniors, it’s really hard to go at the top teams in the conference and compete really hard,” Carruthers said. “They’ve all stayed together and worked really hard because when you have great senior leadership, it really helps. That’s the biggest transition that we’ve gone through. Those young kids have had the ups and downs and now they’re seniors.”
That includes two-way stars Jaleel Canty, who has committed to play for Cincinnati, as well as Mills and Anthony White, just to name a few. The Everett defense returned seven senior starters on defense to start the season from a unit that only allowed two CAAC Blue opponents to crack more than 21 points last year.
“We have a great nucleus of seniors on defense,” Carruthers said.
Junior quarterback Lucas Barner is not a senior, but he’s in his third-year as the starter for the Vikings.
The Everett offense has been mainly dominated by the run, as the Vikings have gained 224 and 303 yards on the ground in their last two wins over Okemos and DeWitt.
But Barner’s ability to check in and out of plays, his poise at the position and experience in all kinds of situations — both ahead and behind on the scoreboard– has created a steady atmosphere for this team to flourish.
“Out of all their skill guys, they have a quarterback who is a three-year starter who’s only a junior. Anytime you have that experience at that position and a good supporting cast, you’re going to be a pretty good football team,” Slamer said.