The Tomahawks took their lumps during a 2-8 season last year with a young offensive line. With a line led by Cade Tucker and Ashton Whitney-Bajema, they plan for more success this season.

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MARYSVILLE — Cade Tucker and Ashton Whitney-Bajema believe they’ve found the key to a successful offensive line.

High-school kickoff 2018

Garfield junior Sav’ell Smalls has put in the work to become one of the top prospects in the nation. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Garfield junior Sav’ell Smalls has put in the work to become one of the top prospects in the nation. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

While explaining the secret, the senior linemen from Marysville-Pilchuck High School demonstrate that the pair have mastered the skill.

“We just feel way more connected; we feel like we’re playing more for each other,” Whitney-Bajema said. “Last year, it felt more like we were playing for ourselves. … We had to work on, what’s it —”

“Chemistry,” Tucker quickly added.

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“That’s it!” Whitney-Bajema said. “We had to work on our chemistry.”

Tucker (6 foot 5, 285 pounds) and Whitney-Bajema (6-0, 250) will be looked at to lead Marysville-Pilchuck’s offensive line, as well as the Tomahawk, this season. The duo will be the first to admit that the chemistry hasn’t always been there and mistakes have been made.

But the group believes that the time is now for Marysville-Pilchuck, which fielded a younger squad last year on the way to a 2-8 campaign.

“You’ve got to work together as a unit,” Tucker said. “You’ve got to have all five guys on the same page, and you just have to do your job well and be physical.”

Marysville-Pilchuck coach Brandon Carson believes the experience of last year will be a large factor in a successful run for the Tomahawks this time around.

“We started a lot of young guys last year, and it may cost us a few games,” Carson said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys that have Friday-night experience coming back, and that’s going to help us a lot.”

A good deal of that experience rests with Tucker and Whitney-Bajema.

Tucker received high praise from his fellow lineman.

Kind of.

“He’s like a brother to me,” Whitney-Bajema said. “He’s a great leader. He puts in work. He can beat anybody. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lose. Except to me, of course.”

Scott Stokes, who coaches the Tomahawks’ offensive line and has been with the program since 1980, said Tucker and Whitney-Bajema have a long list of attributes that make them successful.

“First of all, the good Lord blessed them with exceptional size,” Stokes said. “They’re big, strong kids. But more than that, they’re great workers. They’ve busted their tail. They both love the game.

“They’re just the greatest kids in the world. I never had daughters, but if I did I would have been delighted if they dated those kind of guys.”

Tucker isn’t the first member of his family to fall under the tutelage of Stokes. He also coached Tucker’s father, Jeff, when he went to Marysville-Pilchuck.

“Cade works way harder than dad did,” Stokes said with a laugh. “But dad was a good one.”

Carson likes what he sees so far from his players as they try to convert their previous experience into sustained success on the field.

“The kids are really locked in and focused,” he said. “(They’ll be) laying it on the line each and every Friday night and walking out of there knowing you did the best that you could do.”

As Tucker and Whitney-Bajema prepare for their final season in Marysville-Pilchuck red and white, they have clear-cut goals for their last year of high-school football.

“I want to go to the playoffs,” Tucker said. “We’ve been working, and it’s time for it to show. I think we have the team and everybody to go ahead and take it.”

Whitney-Bajema has an even more specific goal for the WesCo 3A North.

“Revenge on all these other teams that have been getting us these past few years,” he said. “It’s revenge time.”
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WesCo 3A

5 Players to Watch

Capassio Cherry, Edmonds-Woodway, Sr., RB

He rushed for over 1,200 yards and had 16 touchdowns in 2017 despite only playing in seven games. Cherry was injured late in the year but was instrumental in helping the Warriors clinch a postseason berth and reach the state tournament for the first time since 2011.

Brandon Bach, Mountlake Terrace, Sr., WR/P

The multipurpose Bach had 43 receptions for 759 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017, along with 101 rushing yards and 598 return yards. Bach was also a second-team, all-league selection at punter.

Aaron Martinez, Oak Harbor, Sr., LB

Martinez filled up the stat sheet in 2017 with 104 tackles, four forced fumbles, two sacks and an interception. He was a key member of a lockdown Wildcats defense that allowed less than 16 points per contest.

Geirean Hatchett, Ferndale, Jr., OL/DL

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Hatchett was a first-team all-league selection on both sides of the line in 2017 for the league champion Golden Eagles.

Anthony Whitis, Arlington, Sr., QB

Whitis, the Eagles’ 6-foot quarterback, was a first-team all-league selection a year ago and a key figure in an Arlington offense that averaged 30 points per game and challenged for a league title.

5 teams to watch

Edmonds-Woodway: The defending WesCo 3A South champs celebrated the program’s first trip to the state tournament since 2011 a season ago. Now the focus is on a third-straight league title (E-W split the title with Meadowdale in 2016) and notching the Warriors’ first state win since 2007.

Ferndale: The Golden Eagles ran the table in the WesCo 3A North last season and return a good portion of the team that made it to the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state tournament.

Oak Harbor: Oak Harbor came close to knocking off Ferndale last year, but the Wildcats lost 29-28 in OT for its only league loss of the season.

Everett: After years at the bottom of the standings, Everett made huge leaps in its three years under coach Doug Trainor. Trainor stepped down at the end of last season, which saw the Seagulls go 7-3 and qualify for the postseason. Now it’s up to David Coldiron, who most recently coached in Bakersfield, Calif., to keep the Seagulls flying high.

Snohomish: The Panthers, who began to find some footing in WesCo 3A South a year ago, are also breaking in a new coach this season as Joey Hammer takes over. Hammer, a former defense and special teams coordinator for Monroe, previously coached at Snohomish and graduated from the school in 1998 — the last time the Panthers won a state playoff game.