New coach Parnell looks to return Kangs to gridiron glory | Football preview

New Kang head coach AJ Parnell addresses his players following a preseason workout.  - Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter
New Kang head coach AJ Parnell addresses his players following a preseason workout.
— image credit: Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter

Making changes when entering a new position can be difficult. Convincing those who have grown accustomed to certain ways can be a challenge in and of itself. AJ Parnell faced that reality last spring when he was hired as the head football coach at Lake Washington High School. But those changes have taken hold and grown exponentially.

“He has brought the program to life,” LWHS senior Tyson Andrews said. “He has turned Kirkland into a football town. Strangers even know our name.”

Parnell has even been surprised by the haste in which he has been able to gain support, not only from his team but the community.

“I am just one of many trying to get this done,” Parnell said.

The team held a fundraiser auction last month and brought in $20,000 for the program. But it will take more than money to give Lake Washington sustained success like Juanita High School has enjoyed during the past decade. That might be why Parnell was hired away from his alma mater, where he honed his craft under Rebel’s head coach Shaun Tarantola.

Parnell brings fresh perspective to Lake Washington as the second youngest head coach in KingCo this season. But his players are responding.

“Coach Parnell wants us to focus on ourselves twice as much as the other team,” LW senior Braun Inslee said. “He is changing the culture in and out of the locker room.”

On the field Parnell has dedication to his seniors.

“It is important they have a great experience,” Parnell said. “I told the senior class they are my focus. There is not a three-year plan. Our focus is now. I told them you have to trust us before we have earned it.”

But that trust is building.

“It is all mental and we need to have team unity,” Andrews said. “What are we going to do when we get knocked down? We have to rely on each other.”

The facts on the field are that the Kangs were 5-4 last year and made the playoffs for the second year in a row. But it was also under a different coach and it was the first back-to-back playoff appearance in more than a decade.

The Kangs will be led by many of the same players from those winning teams. Andrew and Inslee are captains. They will be joined by senior starting running back Elliot Philips, who earned second team all-KingCo honors last season.

“I am just excited to cut him loose,” Parnell said.

The Kangs also return junior slot wide receiver Riley Simonson, who Parnell also sees lining up in the backfield.

DJ Mann will run the offense from under center, and to prepare for the future underclassman Adam Long will also get some snaps.

“We want to have everyone prepared,” Parnell said. “You never know what is going to happen during the season and you never finish with the same guys you start with.”

He expects his team to be balanced between the run and pass.

“You can always increase one thing if the other isn’t working,” Parnell said.

On defense the Kangs will run a 4-3 cover four. But speed will be key for Lake Washington.

“We need to fly to the football,” Parnell said.

Parnell’s positive outlook has caught on with his players as he is preaching the motto “always rising.”

The team will need to stay positive as their Halloween could become a house of horrors. Perennial state power Bellevue High School will roll into Mac Field on Oct. 31.

“I love that we get to play Bellevue,” Parnell said. “What an awesome measuring stick.”

But things will come full circle for Parnell and assistant head coach Andy Arena, who also coached with the Rebels. The Kangs will travel to Juanita on Sept. 19 for a rivalry game that will take on new meaning.

“I love those players and coaches over there but I am 100 percent Kang now,” Parnell said. “It will be how it is when I compete with my brother.”

Kangs schedule

Sept. 4, at Hazen, 7 p.m.

Sept. 12, at Blanchet, 5 p.m.

Sept. 19, at Juanita, 7 p.m.

Sept. 26, host Liberty, 7 p.m.

Oct. 3, at Interlake, 7 p.m.

Oct. 10, host Shorewood, 7 p.m.

Oct. 17, host Mercer Island, 7 p.m.

Oct. 24, at Sammamish, 7 p.m.

Oct. 31, host Bellevue, 7 p.m.

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