The shadow of quarterback Jeff Lindquist hasn’t totally left the Mercer Island football program. This is the year A.J. (After Jeff), and that’s become a rallying point for all the Islanders returning this season.
But there is one hole left by the departure of Lindquist, who is now at UW, that might be noticeable.
“The only thing is no one wants to wear No. 5,” Mercer Island coach Bret Ogata said.
“That’s the only thing. No one is wearing that jersey this year because no one wants to put it on.”
The duty of replacing Lindquist falls upon the shoulders of Brian Higgins, a smart and studious quarterback who Ogata has plenty of confidence in. Higgins made one start last year while Lindquist sat with a sore shoulder. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown, leading Mercer Island to a 41-7 rout over Interlake.
It’s that performance which Ogata points to when describing why he doesn’t worry about the quarterback position this year.
“I always said that he probably would have been a starter on most teams last year in the state of Washington,” Ogata said. “It just so happened to be that he had one of the best quarterbacks in the state of Washington in front of him.”
In addition to Lindquist, Mercer Island also lost most of its core skill position players, leaving behind an inexperienced and fresh group. They are the uncertainties of Mercer Island.
“There’s just a lot of question marks,” Ogata said. “I have confidence they’re going to do it, but you just never know until you see them on Friday night.”
He doesn’t have that same concern with his offensive line, which returns everyone. That group – which will feature Matt Hassall, Connor Juno-Wild, Alex Emanuels, Sean Pyne, Brad Kimball and Alex Hinstead – forms the strength of Mercer Island. The line will average about 230 or 240 pounds per man, a big jump from Mercer Island’s past.
Those linemen also won the Skyline linemen challenge this year. As sophomores a few years back, they were “embarrassed and destroyed,” according to Ogata, and vowed to improve. In fact, Ogata is so impressed with the skill, depth and size of his line that he offered this praise:
“Since the ’80s all the way until now I’ve followed Mercer Island football,” he said. “And I can’t speak before that time, but at least through that much time this is by far the best line we’re ever going to have.”
And so the line is at the heart of Mercer Island’s quest to prove that it is more than just a Jeff Lindquist team, regardless of how good he was.
“He didn’t play defense for us, he didn’t do special teams for us, and we were pretty good in those areas last year, too,” Ogata said. “That’s kind of the rallying point for these kids and the coaches to move forward.”
Players to watch:
QB Brian Higgins, 6-1, 195
OL Alex Emanuels, 6-3, 265
OL Sean Pyne, 6-3, 275
RB/ DB Risley Lesko, 5-11, 170
TE/LB Brian Rauzi, 6-0, 200
Game to watch:
Oct. 19 vs. Mount Si. Will the inexperienced skill players of Mercer Island be ready for the challenge Mount Si provides?
This is a simple one: Can Brian Higgins and Co. make up for the absence of a player as talented as Jeff Lindquist?