With only one week of high school football in the books, it’s a bit early in the season to identify a clear winner.
But ask linebackers Ty Edmond, MJ Montgomery and Mason Simeta who will lead ninth-ranked Timberline in tackles this season, and each is equally confident in his answer.
“Me, definitely,” said Montgomery, who was named a first-team Class 3A South Sound Conference linebacker a year ago. “That’s me, of course.”
Montgomery recorded six tackles in Timberline’s season-opener against Black Hills last week. But Edmond, who posted six tackles — including two for losses and a sack — and one assist, has other ideas about who will finish the season on top.
“Oh, definitely me,” Edmond said. “That’s way out of the question.”
Edmond also added a 47-yard interception return — Timberline’s first touchdown of the season — last week. But, Simeta likes his chances by the end of the season after recording five tackles — two for losses, one sack — and four assists.
“That’s definitely me, for sure,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’ll have the most tackles.”
Call it a healthy competition between friends. The three linebackers, all seniors, are the cornerstone of the Blazers’ defense, and leaders in a program that looks to repeat as 3A SSC champions.
“We’re kind of the voice of the defense — the backbone,” Simeta said.
And the strength of the linebacker corps is only magnified by the relationship Edmond, Montgomery and Simeta have built playing together the past several seasons. All three agreed their friendship off of the field is one of the keys to their success on it.
“When you have three strong personalities that get along very well, I think it shows the team that you can mesh any way,” Timberline coach Nick Mullen said. “They come from totally different backgrounds, just like everyone our team. It’s like a melting pot here at Timberline.”
The three spend a lot of time in the weight room together, watching game film and playing video games outside of practices.
“(We) are the tightest group of linebackers that I know in our league,” Montgomery said. “If we’re not together, we’re texting each other and talking about things we can do to make the team better, and the defense better, to prove that we are as good as everyone says we are.”
And while the three linebackers enjoy friendly competitions amongst themselves, Mullen said all three are invested in the program’s common goal of finding success as a team each game.
“They like when they see their buddies be successful,” Mullen said. “It’s not all about them. They get just as excited when one of them makes a tackle, or gets a sack, or gets a pick. They just like being together.”
Edmond moved to Washington from Alabama before high school. His sophomore year at Timberline, he started at linebacker after Ryan Birbeck got hurt. His junior year, Montgomery and Simeta joined him — and that made a big difference.
“Since I first got to Washington, those two are two of my closest friends,” he said. “I love everybody on this team, but with those two by my side, I felt like nobody could stop our defense. MJ is super aggressive, a good player. Mason is probably one of the best linebackers I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Each player has his strengths. Edmond (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) is quick in pursuit, and his speed and vision lead to big plays. Montgomery (5-11, 220) packs a punch, Simeta says, and is dangerous when the adrenaline is pumping. Simeta (6-3, 225) is technically and fundamentally sound, Mullen says, and Montgomery calls him the “punisher.”
“They all complement each other very well, and know where each other are going to be on the field,” Mullen said. “It helps a lot.”
Mullen said the three are understanding the game as a whole as seniors, instead of just what is in front of them. Last year, they focused on their jobs, he said, but now have a better grasp on where everyone fits.
“All three of us are key to our defense,” Simeta said. “Being in the middle of the field the whole time is a big responsibility. We all have our jobs to do and have to pursue everything.”
Their cohesiveness will play a big part in Timberline’s meeting with eighth-ranked Bonney Lake (0-1) on Friday night at South Sound Stadium in Lacey. The Blazers (1-0) lost this game a year ago in the final seconds after a penalty on a goal-line stand gave the Panthers a fresh set of downs at the 1-yard line.
Bonney Lake converted a fourth-and-goal to win the game, 36-33, and Timberline hasn’t forgotten.
“We’re going into it making sure we don’t beat ourselves,” Montgomery said. “When we’re on our game, and we’re playing hard, we feel like no one can beat us. We’re making sure we do what we’ve got to do to take care of each other, and do our jobs.”
This will be the first major test for the Blazers to see if they have the potential to end the season where they want to — in the Tacoma Dome, playing for a state title. Edmond, Montgomery and Simeta are all working to end up there and have something they believe no one else does.
“Our bond is something, on the field, that really can’t be matched,” Simeta said.