Rebels look to run away with Kingco title | Juanita High football preview
By TIM WATANABE
Kirkland Reporter Reporter
September 4, 2012 · Updated 4:05 PM
For Juanita High head football coach Shaun Tarantola, the last couple years have been a tale of two seasons.
In 2010, the Rebels took full advantage of a talented group of transfers, made the state tournament for the first time since 1994 and finished with a 9-2 record.
Last season, the squad struggled to a 4-6 record, with three of those losses by one possession.
This year, the Rebels possess an incredible amount of speed and athleticism, as well as contributions from all four classes, which Tarantola is excited about.
"We're looking really good, (with) a lot of guys coming back," he noted. "We're really excited to have a lot of returning players in our senior class, but we have a lot of newcomers that are making an impact on Varsity. A lot of sophomores and even a couple freshmen making an impact, and we're excited about the combination of the two."
What the 2012 Rebels may lack in size, they more than make up for in pure speed.
Leading the way in that regard is senior Kendrick Murphy, who was named "Punt Returner of the Year" in 3A Kingco and a first team all-league defensive honor.
Trayon McNairy is another first team all-league selection at linebacker, and returners Harley French (TE, LB) and Ty Griffith (WR, DB) look to be impact players on both sides of the ball.
"We feel really great about our skill positions," Tarantola said. "Our running backs, receivers, quarterbacks, DBs, linebackers can fly around and make plays."
Added starting quarterback Riley Hilliker (right), "Our skill guys are all real fast. I know if I can put it up in the air, I can trust that my receivers are going to grab it. This year, we're looking solid."
In addition, Juanita was fortunate to pick up a talented transfer from Edmonds-Woodway, Thomas Toki, a lineman who was listed as 5-foot-10 and 265 pounds as a freshman last year.
"We feel this team is going to cause some matchup problems for most teams we play, because of our speed and athleticism," Tarantola said. "That's the name of the game for us this year."
INTO THE FIRE
Looking at the early part of the Rebels' football schedule, the team is definitely looking to play up in preparation for another postseason run.
After defeating 4A Inglemoor last Friday 23-7, the Rebels go on to play Monroe out of the 4A Wesco North league this Friday, all before taking on 3A powers Liberty and four-time defending state champion Bellevue in back-to-back weeks to start conference play.
"Playoffs start early at Juanita, I guess," laughed Tarantola when asked about his team's torturous schedule. "We like that challenge, and keeping ourselves focused. That's going to help down the stretch this season."
The fifth-year coach noted that his big emphasis during the offseason has been to develop trust and team chemistry, "to a whole new level than we've ever experienced," and to simplify the team's playbook in an effort to eliminate mental mistakes.
Tarantola, who has an infectious, good-natured personality that rubs off on his players, believes that the Rebels are capable of beating anyone provided they stay healthy and play well, and Hilliker said that the team's preparation in the weight room and on the field will give them the edge.
"The way we know we'll finish strong this year is our conditioning," said the 6-1, 180-pound senior. "We'll beat teams in the fourth quarter because we're the most conditioned out here... and we know we can outrun any team in the Kingco conference."Contact Kirkland Reporter Reporter Tim Watanabe at email@example.com.