“Ready, set, go!”
Those were the words that surged forth from the mouth of excited Juanita High head football coach Lele Te’o during one of the squad’s spring football practices last week. After players sprinted a few yards and smacked into a pad held by a teammate, Te’o urged them to hustle back and line up for another go.
These spring practice moments will amount to much more in the fall when the Rebel players will have built upon copious hours of blocks and knocks and are ready to smack pads with opponents in 3A KingCo action.
“As a staff, we’re really getting after it, I think this is the most hungry we’ve ever been. We had our ups and downs last year, lot of downs, really learned a lot from it,” said Te’o, whose squad finished 1-8 overall and 0-5 in league last year.
The spring turnout was small due to school finals and players participating in other sports, but Te’o noted that the Rebels will field a strong lineup when August hits.
Along with his solid coaching staff, Te’o said his mom also played a factor in getting the head coach into a positive mindset for 2018.
“After our second to the last game, I got home, my mom goes, ‘How’d you guys do?’ I was like, ‘Mom, we lost.’ And she goes, ‘Well, son, I’m happy you’re losing right now,’ and I was like, ‘How are you gonna say that?’ She goes, ‘You guys have always won, you guys have always been so good. I wanna see how you react when you guys lose,’” he said.
Te’o, who took his mom’s insight to heart, continued: “I think (last year) really tested our integrity of who we are as a program, who we are as a staff, who we are just as a team, as a family, as a community and I think we’re ready to bounce back.”
Challenges are good, the coach added, and he looks forward to each year to see what the players will bring to the table. He added that they’ve always received great support from the community, school administration and players’ families to push them forward.
Last season, Juanita lost some close games late in the contests and had 13 players — including 11 starters — miss two or more games due to injuries.
“I think with all those games, you give us one or two plays either way, and you’re looking at a 6-3 football team,” Te’o said.
Top returners who will be seniors next year are quarterback Jake Hohu (6 feet, 175 pounds), Isaiah Eubanks at linebacker/safety (5-11, 195), Jake Languein at wide receiver/safety (5-11, 175), Sebastian Garcia at guard/tackle (6-2, 330), Dominic Paribello at defensive tackle (6-0, 315) and Romeon Greve at defensive end/tight end (6-1, 205).
A host of sophomores got in a plethora of starts last season and they’ll return strong as juniors, Te’o said. They are: Keegan Eby on the defensive line (6-0, 205), Cole Kennison at middle linebacker/tight end (6-0, 190), Brayden Brown at linebacker/running back (6-0, 160) and Connor Blackburn at linebacker/wide receiver (6-0, 170).
“I think for our guys, it all comes down to accountability. It all comes down to making sure that we’re doing our job and that’s what we’re focused on,” Te’o said.
Greve said he’s learned from coach Te’o how to keep grinding through each play and game and to work closely with his teammates to find success.
“Last year we had a lot of young guys on the team, so they were really learning how our offense and defense work together and how to work as a team. We got those same guys coming back playing for us, so I’ll think we’ll have our stuff together this year to have a good season,” he said.
Paribello can’t wait to get back into the action after sustaining a season-ending fractured femur during week two last year. He’s glad to be working on some plays early and getting back into the football rhythm.
“It’s gonna be a great experience because that was one of the biggest injuries I’ve ever had. That was a big bump for me and I’m happy that I overcame it, and it’s gonna be really fun to be back out here,” he said.
* Juanita football will hold its running program from 6:15-7:15 p.m. each Monday and Thursday throughout the summer on the school track. The Runnin’ Rebels program is free and available to all boys and girls in grades K-8. It is run by sprints and running back coach Chris Vogt, a USA Track and Field-certified coach. For more information, visit www.Juanitafootball.com.