Finding new faces on the Eastlake High School football field won’t be a difficult task this season. Only one offensive starter and three defensive starters return from last year’s 10-2 squad, which fell three points shy of advancing to the class 4A state semifinals.
The revamp of the roster doesn’t concern head coach Gene Dales, however — at least not as much as it could.
“We graduated a whole bunch,” he said. “There are two things about that, it was a great group of kids, but because we had our share of lopsided (victories) we had an awful lot of games where kids played in the second half … and that experience is going to pay off for us this year.”
Among the 26 Wolves who graduated from last year’s team were quarterback Ryan Robertson (2,864 yards passing, 28 TDs), wide receiver Cory Mackay (1,200 yards receiving, 12 TDs) and
lineman Drew Schaefer. Robertson went to NCAA Division II Central Washington University, while the other two were Division I bound — Mackay to Washington State University and Schaefer to the University of Washington.
Dales said he knows there are obvious voids that need to be filled this season, but he’s pleased with what he’s seen so far — starting at quarterback.
Senior Drake Furcini, 6-feet-2, 175 pounds, brings a new element to the Wolves’ offense with his quickness and ability to throw on the run.
“He’s been kind of waiting in the wings behind Ryan (Robertson),” Dales said. “We feel as though he’s got a lot of athletic ability. He throws the ball well and is the fastest of our players in the senior class.”
While Furcini provides speed, junior Kelby McKorkle adds a certain toughness and pocket presence that, according to Dales, will earn him some playing time behind center.
“They’ll be times where one person’s athletic advantage might help us to have them in the ball game,” Dales said. “It’s nice knowing you have two good ones to rely on.”
Running back provides significant depth for the Wolves, despite the loss of 800-yard rusher Taylor Lappano. Senior Steven Nasca carried the ball 50 times for 300 yards and five TDs last year, while junior Cameron Hunt carried the ball 22 times for 200 yards and three TDs.
“The boys both had experience,” Dales said. “They’re competing for playing time and we feel like we have a pretty good two-headed monster right now.”
The most interesting position for Eastlake might be at wide receiver. Two of the school’s most productive receivers ever, Mackay and Kolby Kemp (a combined 2,000 yards and 20 TDs), are gone, but Dales said this year’s group will surprise some people.
“This sounds silly, but this could be the best group of receivers we’ve had,” he said. “We have seven kids that are all starter potential. They catch the football and they run good routes. This is going to be the fastest team we’ve ever had.”
Jeff Grotjahn returns as the only starter on offense. Other receivers expected to make impacts are Scott Payton, Paul Wright, Sam Olmstead, Kyle Lappano and Daniel Jackstadt. Austin Reifeis is a 6-foot-3, 218-pound tight end, who transfered to Eastlake from Colorado last winter. Dales said he is fast, has great hands and will be in the running for all-KingCo tight end before the season is over.
The offensive and defensive lines graduated the most players, and Dales said filling those spots was the largest off-season task. Among the group expected to start on both sides of the ball are Turner Lee (6-foot-3, 225 pounds), Derek Chaney (6-foot, 190) and Tim Xiong (5-10, 230).
“We understand we’re giving up our size from last year, but we’re replacing it with a lot of speed,” Dales said.
The secondary will be a strong point on defense as Nasca, Grotjahn and Payton all return. On special teams, Eastlake gets a new kicker in Kelly Rockey.
Dales knows the newly formed KingCo 4A Crest Division will be no easy task this season, facing the likes of Skyline, Issaquah, Redmond, Newport and Garfield, but he’s excited for an opportunity to compete against what many label the toughest division in the state.
“Man, is it going to be a battle,” he said. “I’ve said jokingly this is the SEC of high school football. Every week you could get knocked off if you’re not ready. You could play very well and not win ball games.”
Dales reiterated that he likes what he’s seen so far from his team.
“You watch how hard the kids are working, and you know they believe they’re going to do it. As coaches, that’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Eastlake kicks off its season at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5 at non-league Mount Si.