Wildcats take flight

La Center adds new wrinkle to offense with passing game

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

LA CENTER — A.J. Myers had a lot of fun on his first touchdown reception of the year.

Maybe too much fun.

"I acted like a complete idiot. I was so excited I finally caught a touchdown," said Myers, a 6-foot-6 wide receiver/tight end for the La Center football team.

About 10 yards before he reached the end zone, he raised the ball over his head.

(That should have been a penalty, by the way, but he said he got a warning instead.)

Once he reached the end zone, he acted as if he were going to spike the ball. (That would have been called a penalty for sure had he actually done it.)

Now, Myers waits until he gets into the end zone before celebrating, and he has toned down his actions.

But really, can you blame him?

Did you not notice this story is about La Center football? This is the place where the Wildcat offense — the direct snap to the running back — is said to have originated.

Did you not notice this story refers to a touchdown pass regarding La Center football?

There are some who use the old saying: Act like you've been there before.

Well, we're not sure there has been any documented evidence of a touchdown pass at La Center during coach John Lambert's tenure.

OK, OK, a slight exaggeration. The point is, the run-first, run-second, run-third offense of La Center Wildcats football has a new wrinkle this season: The forward pass.

Quarterback Dylan King has nine touchdown passes in the first three games, second best in the region among Class 1A through 4A football.

Matt Braaten and Myers each have four touchdown receptions, tied for third in the region.

"I wouldn't mind throwing it every play," said King said, who is 21 of 37 for 396 yards and his nine touchdowns.

He got 15 attempts last week, which, for La Center, is like throwing it every play.

The coach said the district's superintendent is now calling him "Air Lambert."

Lambert remains a double-wing guy at heart, but he said this year's talent deserved a chance to air it out.

"Dylan can throw it, the guys can catch it, and our line has improved tremendously in the pass blocking," Lambert said. "It really adds a new dimension. If we're able to do things, I'm going to take advantage."

King, Myers, and Braaten said last year's playoff loss to Cascade Christian was a turning point for the program. La Center did not come close to scoring until the final seconds of the game.

"They stopped the run," King said. "And we weren't prepared to throw the ball."

Lambert told his Wildcats to expect a change in the offseason.

"He just wanted us to get ready to throw the ball," King said. "We plan on going deep into the state playoffs. We have a great running game. Our linemen have been improving a lot since the end of last year. Now they can run-block and pass-block."

Granted, the early success for the Wildcats this season has come against teams that are struggling in the Trico League. La Center's first test just might come tonight against Castle Rock.

Even if the wins have been lopsided in the first three weeks, the Wildcats have at least given the tougher teams in the league something else to prepare for this season.

"They don't know what's coming," Myers said. "They might think they know, but they definitely don't know."

Got it?

The Wildcats are not just throwing it out of the double-wing, either. They are using some spread formations, as well.

"We have so many things we can throw at an opposing defense," Braaten said. "We can run the ball. We can throw it."

While the coach and the quarterback give the offensive line credit for making the adjustment to a more balanced attack, the receivers give credit to the guy who gets them the ball.

"It's a great feeling getting out on a route and having the ball placed perfectly into your hands," Braaten said. "All you have to do is grab it."It's a new era at La Center.

Not that there was anything wrong with the old era.

Myers, Braaten and King all grew up in La Center, watching the football team win a lot more than it lost using the double-wing, rushing attack.

They all said they like passing over opponents, but they also were just fine with running over opponents, too.

"I actually enjoyed blocking," Myers said. "I love catching the ball, don't get me wrong. But I love hitting people, too. It's more fun now, but it didn't bother me when it wasn't a passing offense."

Sure, it didn't bother the Wildcats. But now, they get to act a little crazy in the end zone via the forward pass.