Lodell: A player of the most slippery sort

Michael Lodell was the top weapon in South Whidbey’s offense this season, rushing to four 200-plus-yard games and 14 touchdowns. - Matt Johnson
Michael Lodell was the top weapon in South Whidbey’s offense this season, rushing to four 200-plus-yard games and 14 touchdowns.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

On a 3-7 team and in the strongest 2A football conference in the state, it’s almost a shock that Michael Lodell has gotten any notice at all. Almost.

Named this week as the first-team all-conference tailback in the North Cascades Conference by a majority of the league’s coaches, Lodell has done a lot to stand out on the South Whidbey High School football team. He’s had to. Last year, three NCC teams — Lynden Christian, Nooksack Valley and Meridian — made it into the round of 16 at the 2002 state tournament. South Whidbey was 4-6 and was able to offer only faint resistance in head-to-head competition with the best in conference.

The same was almost true this season, with the same three teams dominating. But Lodell, a 5-10, 175-pound junior who played his first two years as a Falcon on the junior varsity team, made even the best teams reassess their prowess. Over 10 games, he rushed for 1,470 yards, gained 277 yards on kickoff returns, scored 14 touchdowns and even intercepted two passes while playing corner — work for which he was also elected to the NCC defensive second team this week.

In four of his rushing performances, Lodell cracked 200 yards, with his biggest night coming against Blaine Sept. 12. In that game, he sprinted and sidestepped his way to 266 yards and four touchdowns. Former Falcon head coach and current assistant coach Mick Heggenes said that while Lodell’s total yardage is not a school record, notching those four big games likely is.

“That’s pretty significant,” he said.

Mark Hodson, the Falcons’ head coach, couldn’t help but agree when the all-conference namings came out Thursday.

“If you look at it this way, off a 3-7 football team, he was the top vote getter for tailback,” he said.

The self-described “shifty runner” was thrilled to hear about his awards this week, and was quick to spread the credit around — to Falcon offensive linemen Frank Jack Nick, Sheridan Catlin, Ben Harris, Mike Moore, Michael McNanny and Matt Hicks. After all, these were the guys opening the holes through which Lodell was running the ball.

“You have to love your line,” he said.

Unlike some runningbacks who have come before him, Lodell is not the sort to stun a defense with pure speed. Using gaps just large enough to slip a lead leg and his body through, he used quick east-west moves to drop his pursuers before slipping into his top gear.

That gear was a shocker, especially for the defenders on the NCC’s northern teams. They just could not believe that Lodell, who plays baseball every spring, is not a track champion.

“They thought I was a sprinter,” Lodell said.

Also a factor in his success this season is his durability. Since his first football game as an Islander youth football player in third grade, he’s been used to carrying the ball on nearly every play. This season, he could expect being tackled at least 30 times a game. But the only pain he felt during a game this season came when he broke his finger on his first rush against Nooksack Valley on Oct. 3. That, he said, was a disappointment, because he believed that game — in which he still rushed for a team-leading 67 yards — could have been a victory for the Falcons instead of a 58-14 loss.

Next season will be a better one for the Falcons, Lodell predicted this week. He said his team came together as a close group of friends, something he says is crucial in the game he considers to be the last true team sport. And, through the winter and into next summer, he’ll be back to running on trails, lifting weights and sprinting out of sight of the school’s track coaches to get ready for his senior season. He can hardly wait.

“It’s really natural for me to run the ball,” he said. “I couldn’t see it any other way.”

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