Friday, December 30, 2011

KeiVarae Russell Chooses Notre Dame

In the story below, Jim talks about the decision that KeiVarae Russell, Mariner High School's superb running back, just made to play football for Notre Dame.  What he didn't say is that he was the first one to really understand the depth of KeiVarae's talent when he coached him as a freshman.  Jim was instrumental in convincing head coach John Ondriezek that KeiVarae had too much talent to remain with the freshman team.  Coach Ondriezek's policy was that freshmen didn't play with the varsity.  KeiVarae proved, once again, that one can never say never.  He joined the varsity partway through the season and never looked back, becoming a four-year starter.  Jim helped to mentor KeiVarae throughout those four years, a job made easy by his desire to be great and willingness to do what was asked.

KeiVarae confided in Jim about his decision to go to Notre Dame a week or two before he made his choice known at the ceremony discussed below.  We watched as the recruiting boards lit up with pleas and wild guesses about which school he would pick. It is comforting to know that KeiVarae made the choice that he felt was best for him.  It wasn't a decision based on location, uniform color or even who had the snazziest helmets.  He weighed all the factors and chose the school that, for him personally, made the most sense.

When Jim and I accompanied KeiVarae to Notre Dame during his recruiting trip earlier this year, we were very impressed by the school and what it had to offer.  We could tell that KeiVarae was also impressed.  We wish him every success and feel confident in saying that no matter how his football career and his life after football evolves, no one will work harder.  Good luck KeiVarae.

Jim and KeiVarae
at decision ceremony.

A coach doesn't often get a chance to have an elite athlete come
through his program.  By elite athlete, I mean a kid who has the whole
package which includes excellent grades, respect from his peers and
his teachers, and most of all, a kid who is easy to coach, a kid who
will listen to instructions and do his best to follow through.  Most
importantly, when you think elite, you think of a kid who has that
"Wow" factor, a kid who can do things that other kids just can't do.

I played with such an athlete when Terry Metcalf and I were freshmen
at Everett Junior (now Community) College.  Terry was an 18 year-old
sprinter, high jumper, and long jumper in track at Franklin High
School in Seattle.  At Long Beach State he was not only an
all-conference running back, but he punted, played as a defensive back
in crucial situations, punted, and kicked field goals.  I was a 29
year-old offensive guard who was trying to regain some vestige of my
lost youth.  Terry's talents were totally obvious to even the casual
observer.  Mine were, uh, a little less obvious.  Terry had the "Wow"

At Mariner High School we had Teyo Johnson as our quarterback when he
was a freshman.  At 6'5" and 210 pounds he definitely had the size
'Wow" factor and he had the speed and intelligence as well.  After
leading Mariner into the state 3A championship game in football and
into the semifinals in the state basketball tournament, he then took
his 6'7", 235 pound talented frame out onto the track where he
excelled in the high hurdles.  After high school he took his act to
Stanford where he played both football and basketball.  We can
consider him an elite athlete.

Today, however, I was able to witness something that I never dreamed I
would see, not personally anyway.  I saw KeiVarae Russell, a young man
with whom I have worked, sit in front of a festive holiday crowd in
the Mariner High School gymnasium and make the most important decision
of his young life.  On the table in front of him sat a row of
baseball-style hats representing the University of Southern
California, the University of California at Berkeley, the University
of Washington, and the University of Notre Dame.  Each had offered him
a full athletic scholarship as had sixteen other schools. He started
by saying a few words about each of the schools represented in his cut
down to the final four:  Cal was noted for producing running backs
(there are two on the Seahawks' roster); USC was the school of his
idol and reason that he wears number 5, Reggie Bush.  The UW offered
the fact that friends and family could watch him play.  As he was
about to announce his decision, the lights in the gym went out
plunging the entire gym into total darkness.  Simultaneously, the
sound system began playing the Notre Dame fight song as a large screen
lit up with the Notre Dame logo.  When the lights came back on. he was
wearing the Notre Dame hat.

Why Notre Dame?  KeiVarae is an extremely intelligent young man, and
he told us that he was impressed with their 98% graduation rate for
football players.  Many of their players graduate in three years.  The
school offers a lot of help for freshmen to manage their time and
their studies while fulfilling their training duties for the football
program.  He also noted that Notre Dame graduates are world-wide as he
found out when he received a business card from one of the camera crew
who said it belonged to his father who was both a Notre Dame grad and
a Microsoft executive.  KeiVarae was told to call the guy when he
graduates from Notre Dame.  He wants to play in the NFL one day, but
he also realizes that he is always one hit away from a lost NFL
career.  If he does get hurt they will guarantee his scholarship and
knowing that a Notre Dame graduate will make an extra million and a
half dollars in their lifetime compared to the average person is a
comforting thought indeed.  They also said they plan on playing him
his freshman year.

This is a smart kid who has been preparing for this moment,
athletically and scholastically, for years.  Most kids just drift
through their high school years going any way the current will take
them.  Not KeiVarae.  He has always had a plan.  He will never be
outworked. I don't believe Notre Dame has ever recruited a player
with a better work ethic.  I feel honored to have played a tiny part
in the story of his football life so far.  Jim Olsen

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

State High School Football Playoffs - 2011

Unless you were abducted by aliens last weekend you already know that the Washington's version of the Super Bowl, the Gridiron Classic State Football Championships which crown a champion in each high school division, were contested at the Tacoma Dome on December 2 and 3.  For the past several years High School Cover 2 has covered this exciting event, bringing our unique perspective direct to you from the Dome.

That didn't happen this year because of a serious illness that cancelled our plans just as we were planning our annual pilgrimage to the Dome.  Thankfully, that illness is now in the back mirror and we will soon be returning to bring you the stories you have grown to expect.  We are now planning our lineup for next year and hope to be able to bring you some exciting posts done in the style that you have grown to expect.  Stay tuned, 2012 promises to be our best year yet!  In the meantime, we wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.

Just in case you missed them, here are the results of the championship games in each division:

4A - Skyline 38, Skyview 7.  In the battle of the "Sky's," Skyline prevailed.  This was supposed to be a building year for this perennial playoff school.  The year started slowly, but the Spartans peaked at the right time to win another state title.

3A - Bellevue 35, O'Dea 16.  What else can you say about the Bellevue Wolverines?  They had the Wing-T clicking as the finished off a good O'Dea squad.  This was Bellevue's fourth straight 3A title.  Is it too soon to talk dynasty?

2A - Lynden 17, Archbishop Murphy 16.  Hands down this was the most exciting game of the playoffs this year.  Just when it seemed that their luck had run out, the Lions voluntarily took a safety, recovered the resulting on-side kick and drove it down for the final score and a victory to give Lynden 4 state titles in the last 6 years.

1A -  Connell 28, Cascade Christian 7.  The Eagles were the class of the eastside 1A teams this year and easily defeated the west's representative.

2B - Waitsburg/Prescott 33, Morton/White Pass.  As seems to happen every year, some hyphenated school from the eastside comes to the Dome and dominates one or both of the lower division B teams.  This year was no exception.  In 2B, the Cardinals easily won against a gutty Morton team.

1B - Neah Bay 36, Almira Coulee Hartline 28.  After the Red Devils had unexpectedly defeated a Lummi team that was rated number one in 1B all year, it seemed a foregone conclusion by many that they would easily win the 1B title.  The hyphenated team from the eastside took umbrage and put up a good fight before finally succumbing in a hard fought contest.