Longtime resident takes over as Kangs head football coach

New Lake Washington High School football coach AJ Parnell sits in the Mac Field stands with football players Braun Inslee, center, and Tyson Andrews, left.  - Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter
New Lake Washington High School football coach AJ Parnell sits in the Mac Field stands with football players Braun Inslee, center, and Tyson Andrews, left.
— image credit: Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter

AJ Parnell looks like he could throw on some pads, a helmet, run onto Mac Field and take some snaps next fall for the Lake Washington High School football team. His youthful appearance might lead one to wonder if he was actually traded from cross-town rival Juanita to the Kangs.

But in reality, the 30-year-old coach was hired away from the Rebels to be Lake Washington’s new varsity head football coach.

“I think people are excited to have a young coach instead of having some older guy who can’t relate to us,” said Kangs football player Braun Inslee. “He said ‘ask me anything’ and that made it really easy for us.”

His ability to connect with his players and guide them has made a big impact for the young coach and gained him a reputation.

“We feed off his positive energy and we feel he can lead us in the right direction,” said Kangs football player Tyson Andrews.

Parnell said that he loves coaching sports because it is a great environment for teaching.

“Sports [are] an amazing opportunity to practice life,” Parnell said. “You get a chance to practice adverse situations and learn from them.”

Parnell said that he will teach his players about G.R.I.T. — gratitude, responsibility, integrity and team.

Lake Washington High School athletic director George Crowder said he was impressed with Parnell’s character.

“He is a longtime coach in the area,” Crowder said. “He really has the pedigree and intangibles to become a really successful head coach. He has a good vision for what a great program should be.”

A committee of parents, players and the Lake Washington High School athletic administration made the unanimous selection of Parnell, said Crowder.

For Andrews, who was on the committee, it was Parnell’s communication skills that impressed him the most.

“He has already begun developing a relationship with the senior class and there has been a lot of give and take,” Andrews said. “I like his philosophy that winning isn’t a goal for us but a byproduct of the process and working hard.”

Crowder said that Parnell expects a lot out of his players.

“He will stress the importance of academic excellence, athletic success and strong character,” Crowder said.

Parnell is no stranger to KingCo or even Kirkland football, as he grew up in Kirkland and was an assistant coach under Juanita High School head football coach Shaun Tarantola since 2008.

“He was a great assistant coach with us and impacted our program in a positive way,” Tarantola said. “He had a lot to do with the success we have achieved.”

The game between Lake Washington and Juanita next fall will add meaning for both coaches.

“It will be the first time that I have coached against an assistant that worked with me as a head coach but I am sure it will be a fun week,” Tarantola said. “I compare it to what it is like for us to play Liberty, since I was an assistant there until 2004 under coach Valach. We have similar philosophies on how to run a program, offense, defense and special teams. I look forward to having another game against a group of coaches that I have close friendships with and a ton of respect for.”

For Parnell there will be an added bit of mixed emotions because he also played for the Rebels football team when he attended Juanita High School.

“Shaun does such a great job that you want to work hard for him and he entrusted me with a lot,” said Parnell, who turned 30 on April 16 and is the youngest head football coach in KingCo. “My experience at Juanita has prepared me for this opportunity. I am so grateful for the people around me. They have gotten me to this point.”

Parnell was raised in Kirkland, growing up on Finn Hill and taught at Finn Hill Middle School for seven years.

He graduated from Juanita High School in 2002 and then went on to play quarterback for Bethel University in Minnesota.

Most recently, Parnell was defensive coordinator for the Rebels and is a teacher at Lake Washington High School.

Parnell replaces former Lake Washington High School head coach Steve Supple, who took the Kangs to the state playoffs during the 2013 season.

“It was a building decision,” Crowder said. “We felt like we needed to move in a different direction.”

Supple coached the team for four seasons and before that Ray Roberts lasted just two years.

“It is all about developing relationships and engaging the community,” said Parnell. “I want to build off of what coach Supple did. I want to build them academically as well as physically.”

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