Jason Gesser has unquestionably experienced nerves on a football field before.
But the former Washington State University quarterback is preparing himself for a different kind of nervousness on Sept. 5. The Cougar’s career win leader and 2002 Heisman Trophy candidate will coach his first ever game when his Eastside Catholic squad takes on Olympic.
“The night before I probably won’t be able to sleep,” he said. “I’m really excited, not only for myself, but for these kids … to see them kind of come together and see how they’re going to perform from all this work, that’s what I’m more anxious to see.”
Gesser, who was hired in May to replace a recently resigned Bill Marsh, adopted a Eastside Catholic team that graduated 31 seniors.
“We have guys coming back, just without experience,” he said.
The Crusaders return just one starter, senior safety Matt Freeman, from last season’s 9-2 state quarterfinal team.
Gesser admits there are question marks, but he likes the mentality his young team has taken on.
“We’re not the biggest group out here, but we’re going to be the most disciplined and we’re going to be the toughest group,” he said. “Not only physically tough, but mentally tough.”
The program has already done things in the offseason they have never done before, including wearing pads in spring practices, going to a team camp at Washington State University and competing in passing tournaments.
“We were trying to get these guys as much experience as possible because they need to get that fire,” Gesser said. “They need to know what that competitiveness is like, get that spirit in them, and get them ready for the year.”
There are several varsity returners who didn’t start last season, led by senior quarterback Connor McCormick. At 6-foot-3, McCormick has great size, and a strong arm. The largest question mark for Gesser came with mobility.
“He had slow feet in the past, and he’s worked so hard this summer,” Gesser said. “His feet have become 100 percent better than before. He’s gotten physically stronger, and mentally stronger. He’s done everything I could have asked, so far, to prepare him for the season.”
McCormick will have a host of big targets at wide receiver, including 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior Alec Kimble. Luke Nelson, a 6-foot-1, 195 pound senior receiver, transferred from Shorewood. Other returning receivers expected to make an impact are senior Blake Tamminen and Garrett DeGallier.
With Gesser’s history, many assume his offense will be pass-heavy, but he made it clear things will be equally divided.
“The thing is, that everybody just automatically assumes with me being a quarterback, I’m going to throw the ball, but really it’s going to be 50-50,” he said.
Sophomore running back Chavelle Walker is expected to provide speed out of the backfield, along with senior Grant Sutherland and junior Mario Salazar.
Ex Husky Tuiasosopo joins staff
Former University of Washington linebacker/fullback Zach Tuiasosopo was recently hired as the Eastside Catholic defensive coordinator. He will also help with the running backs.
“He just came on about a week ago … he’s done a fabulous job,” Gesser said.
Tuiasosopo, who graduated from Woodinville High School in 1999 and red-shirted at the UW during the 2000 season, started his Husky career in 2001 as a outside linebacker. He then switched over to offense, playing his next three seasons at fullback. Tuiasosopo had a brief stint in the NFL, playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Bucaneers practice squads. He is the son of former NFL player Manu Tuiasosopo and the brother of recently retired Oakland Raider back-up quarterback and former Husky star, Marques Tuiasosopo.
“Yes, he is a Husky, but I could care less,” Gesser said, laughing. “We have a lot of Cougs on the staff, and the first time he came in, a lot of guys were razzing him about being a Husky, and he said ‚‘You know what, we’re all Crusaders now.’”
This is the 27-year-old Tuiasosopo’s first high school coaching experience, but something Gesser said he is a natural at.
“His whole mentality is amazing,” Gesser said. “This kid is going to go far with this coaching thing if he wants to be serious about it.”
Eastside Catholic begins its season at 3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 5 against non-league Olympic in Bremerton. The team has its first home game at 7 p.m., Sept. 11 against Archbishop Murphy.
Sept. 5 at Olympic, 3 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Archbishop Murphy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 vs. North Mason, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Lakeside, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Bainbridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 vs. Blanchet, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. O’Dea, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Seattle Prep, 7 p.m.