Football team may be ready to climb back up in league
Something is off at Juanita. It’s the second day of football practice. Players should be sore, sweaty and complaining.
Instead there is a palpable air of excitement around the team and first-year coach Shaun Tarantola. The players are smiling. The coaches are saying things like “pleased with the effort” and “they’re very enthusiastic.” For a program that’s been on the ropes in recent years, the climb back up might finally be starting.
Juanita finished 3-6 overall and 2-6 in the KingCo last season. The team returns just six starters. Tarantola came to the Rebels from Evergreen, where he turned the Wolverines into a power in the Seamount League.
Much of the offense will revolve around quarterback Nick Olearain, who passed for 955 yards, seven touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season. The senior also rushed 80 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns last year.
“He’s such a good athlete,” Tarantola said. “He’ll be diverse on offense. He’ll definitely be a dual-threat quarterback.”
Entering his third year as the starting quarterback for Juanita, Olearain will need to harness his athleticism and improve on his 42 percent completion percentage from last season. The Rebels’ veteran offensive line should help by giving him more time in the pocket to find receivers. After two years of struggling, success in 2008 is important to Olearain.
“It would really mean a lot,” Olearain said. “To have this program get better from this year on and to be here for the beginning of it would be pretty cool.”
Anchoring both the offensive and defensive line positions are senior returners Trey Knapp and McKinley Wike. Transfer Cody Treddenbarger will also help the line, as will newcomer Matt Forrester.
The weakness for Juanita will be inexperience at the running back and wide receiver positions. Trevor Roush was last year’s leader in rushing yards and receiving yards and the team lost him to graduation.
“We’re very talented at those positions — the guys just aren’t varsity experienced,” Tarantola said. “It will just be a matter of how they respond under pressure.”
Juanita’s junior varsity squad finished 7-1 last season and much of that team is now filling out the varsity roster.
Tarantola said there are six running backs that could make an impact, but he doesn’t know whether it will be collectively or if one will step up and take a featured role. Jerimiah Laufasa (a transfer from Evergreen), Alex Minerich, Cole Graves, Brad Bomberry, Robert Golden and Jack Bayley all have a chance to run the ball for the offense.
As it looks now, the offense might be at somewhat of a crossroads until the new talent catches on. With a strong offensive line, the instinct would be to sway the playcalling to running the ball. But the Rebels’ best player is Olearain at quarterback, so he needs to be in the action as much as possible. The solution is simple for Tarantola: balance.
“For us to win,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to do both of them. They compliment each other and we need each to be effective.”
Nate Khiene, Kris Otterholt, Kyle Bowden and Jhalen Brown will be the wide receivers, with tight Colin Harlow providing another target for Olearain.
A combination of strengths and weaknesses are the same story for the defense. Knapp and Wike will anchor a strong defense line and Olearain will play at safety, but otherwise the group will be talented, but green.
The biggest change for the Rebels is on the sidelines. Not only did Tarantola come from Evergreen, he brought coaches Andy Arena, Lele Teo, Josh Mandler and Eddie Antuna from Evergreen as well. To round out the group, Tarantola added Don Papasedero from Mercer Island and A.J. Parnell from Finn Hill Jr. High.
“The continuity with the coaches helps,” Olearain said. “They know what they’re doing and they’re all on the same page coming in. That helps the players catch on faster.”
Juanita’s drop to 3A and the KingCo realignment may help the Rebels get going this season. Instead of perennial power programs like Bothell, Eastlake and Woodinville, Juanita has just one big-time, yearly opponent in their division, Bellevue. But that doesn’t mean Tarantola is banking on wins against any KingCo teams.
“I never take any game lightly,” he said. “I feel like if we prepare well and do the little things, we can win any game. But I also feel that if we don’t prepare well and don’t do the little things, we can lose any game.”
The team has plenty of talent, solid lines and a veteran quarterback. It also has a lot of inexperience. If the Rebels can stay competitive early in the season while the younger players get better then gel later in the year, this team could make a mark in the new KingCo 3A.