By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
EVERETT — KeiVarae Russell. Zach Banner. Joshua Garnett. Cedric Dozier. Jeff Lindquist.
The state of Washington was loaded with football talent last fall, and some of the top teams in the Pacific-12 Conference took full advantage.
The same can’t be said for this weekend’s East-West all-star game.
Not only did the consensus top five recruits in the state skip out on the game, but so did several other top players from the Class of 2012. None of the top 15 players on the Rivals.com list of 2012 recruits from this state will be participating in Saturday’s game.
Add in some injuries and other issues that have affected numbers on both rosters this week — among them were Jackson wide receiver Andrew Dodd, who is injured, and Skyview quarterback Kieran McDonagh, who is attending summer school at Portland State — and there seems to be as much talk about who isn’t playing in this weekend’s all-star game as who is.
But both head coaches said they’re not thinking about what could have been.
“I love the kids that are here,” said East coach Steve Kizer, who coaches at Skyview High School. “It’s a polite group of hard-working kids; they work well together. We talk about the kids we have here.
“But there are more and more college guys being asked to go to summer school, and when you’re paying a kid’s tuition …”
West coach Gordon Elliott added that the talent pool in the annual all-star game has been watered down over the years as colleges demand more and more of their incoming freshmen.
“The first one I (coached) was back in 1988, and all the big-time kids were here,” the Auburn High coach said. “Things have really changed over the past 24 years. Things have changed where now a lot of the big-time guys, they have summer school now, and the colleges want them on campus. We lose a lot of kids that way.”
Gordon was quick to point out that there are still several players who will move on to play college football, including one of his own in Auburn lineman and University of Washington recruit Cory English.
But it’s hard not to think about how much more talent could be here had players like Banner (a USC recruit), Garnett (Stanford), Dozier (Cal), Lindquist (UW) and Mariner High’s Russell (Notre Dame) been on hand.
“Before the season began, when I first heard about the all-star game, I thought maybe some of them would come,” said West running back/receiver Josiah Miller, an Oak Harbor High graduate. “But later in the year, I started to understand that they’re not going to come.
“Too much risk. A lot of people are visiting their colleges right now. I don’t know if I would come if I had all Pac-12 offers. But there are still some good kids out here. So it should be a good time.”
The East team endured the latest blow when McDonagh, a likely starter at quarterback, went to Portland State to attend summer classes rather than participate in the all-star game. Kizer, who coached McDonagh in high school, said he’s still holding out hope that the quarterback will join the East squad at some point this week.
“We’re calling,” he said Monday afternoon when asked if he’s been in touch with McDonagh,
In the meantime, Central Valley defensive back Gaven Deyarmin has been taking snaps at quarterback to add depth behind likely starter Justin Hordyk.
Two ways to skin a cat
Monday’s opening practices couldn’t have been more dissimilar.
While the East team donned helmets and shells and went through drills with blocking dummies and some special teams work, the West team stuck to the basics. Gordon’s group was without helmets and pads while the coaching staff installed the offense for 90 minutes before turning attention to the defense.
“We have plenty of practices to get ready,” Gordon said. “It’s not like back home, where everybody already knows what we’re doing and they can just jump right into it.
“I just feel, from a teaching standpoint, that the best way is to teach them what they need to know before they go out and start doing things. So today, for us, was just a learning day.”
The East’s Kizer said he wanted to get right into it with shells and pads.
“We’ll only be here a week,” he said, “so we can’t wait. We didn’t do anything real physical, but we’ve got to kind of break into the idea of wearing a helmet and tackling again. I think that’s important. You take every minute you can and get ready for the game.”
Out for revenge
While the geographical rivalry is a big part of this Saturday’s game, West quarterback Jake Nelson of Lake Stevens has something else motivating him this week.
After losing to Skyview in the 4A state semifinals, he would love to knock off an East team that includes at least one Skyview player (lineman Dylan Bratlie) and four coaches from that Vancouver school.
“We definitely want to take it to the East, especially some of those Skyview kids,” Nelson said Monday.