The four-star wide receiver has seen some talented teams knocked out early in the playoffs the last two years. The Cruaders are looking to change that this season.
No one wants to be that guy. The gifted player on a roster full of star power that never matches expectations.
Gee Scott Jr. knows he could be put in that category. His past two Eastside Catholic teams were lauded across Washington as bursting with talent. The four-star receiver is undeniably one of the Crusaders’ gems the way he can float his 6-foot-3 frame in the air to catch balls with a radius seemingly as expansive as a ZIP code.
Yet, Eastside Catholic hasn’t advanced past the Class 3A state semifinals since 2015.
“If you look at who won championships the past couple of years, those weren’t the most talented teams,” said Garfield coach Joey Thomas, whose team knocked Eastside out in the Class 3A state quarterfinals last season. “Last year, Eastside and Rainier Beach were (arguably) the most talented. So, talent doesn’t win championships. Talent only takes you so far.”
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It’s a lesson that stings when Scott thinks about it. So much, that sacrificing for his team to win a championship is all the incoming junior will allow himself to think about. It’s almost all he talks about with his father and brother, a freshman on the team.
So much that Scott spent the summer visualizing how he’d get Eastside to the Tacoma Dome in December.
“It’s wake-up time,” he said. “I just want to wake up all the guys and make sure we have that intensity right off the top because the spotlight can get in anyone’s head, and I don’t want anyone pulled away from the team. I want to make sure all of us are focused through any accolades and achievements. Team is the No. 1 goal because my No. 1 priority is winning a championship with my team.”
The antithesis of Scott’s goals occurred in the state quarterfinals against Garfield last November.
Eastside players openly talked about how disjointed they were from the moment they boarded the bus to travel to the game at Memorial Stadium. It worsened as the game progressed with bickering on the sideline.
“We were running plays wrong; we were lethargic; it didn’t seem like we were ready,” Eastside senior center Jason Medeiros said.
The Bulldogs connected on a 24-yard field goal for the win in double overtime. Scott finished the season with 35 catches for 785 yards and nine touchdowns.
He spent parts of the offseason working with Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin to improve. The relationship was built through Scott spending the past two years working for Seahawks equipment manager Erik Kennedy. Tightening cleats, folding laundry and hemming jerseys were some of the duties.
When Baldwin was able, Scott would get one-on-one time where routes were simulated and the Pro Bowl receiver would quiz him on how he should react in the scenario.
“When it comes to Doug, he’s done so much for me teaching-wise where I feel like my mental game is on another level,” said Scott, who views himself as physical wideout. “Being able to have the advantage of being able to see some of the best players in the world go at it right in front of your eyes is just like … it’s all you could ask for.”
A lot of Eastside’s success depends on the play of junior Michael Franklin. The prostyle quarterback reclaimed the starting position after breaking his left collarbone three games into his sophomore season.
Franklin and Scott have been close friends since elementary school. The duo spent about four days a week training with each other this summer. But Franklin also has talented targets in juniors DJ Rogers, Donaven Lewis, Sam Adams and Giovanni Ursino.
“There’s a lot of people who want to doubt me,” Franklin said. “They’ll see soon. I have weapons everywhere and just need to dissect the defense and get the ball where it needs to go.”
Defensively, Eastside Catholic features three-star senior tackle Will Vea and five-star sophomore tackle J.T. Tuimoloau.
The Crusaders will play one of the most competitive schedules in Washington. Eastside opens against California’s Oaks Christian on Saturday as part of the Honor Bowl in San Diego. The Lions are ranked 17th nationally and have already played two games, outscoring their opponents 69-20.
Eastside hosts Central Catholic (Oregon) and Rigby (Idaho) before opening up Metro League play against Rainier Beach, which advanced to the Class 3A state championship game. A rematch with Garfield follows and then a rivalry game against defending state champion O’Dea.
Scott aims to be at the heart of it all, keep his teammates focused while putting on an offensive show.
“Our kids are going to have a chip on their shoulder all year long, really until we win a state title,” Eastside coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. “Leading that is Gee. He brings a level of enthusiasm that is contagious plus he’s a special player.”
Five teams to watch
O’Dea: The Irish graduated running back Jamyn Patu, who rushed for over 2,000 yards in helping O’Dea win the Class 3A championship. But longtime coach Monte Kohler’s system is designed to adapt. Look for quarterback Emonte Scott and three-star cornerback Mishael Powell to shine.
Rainier Beach: After a first-time finish as state runners-up, senior quarterback Jihad Abdul-Haqq won the starting spot and hopes for an encore. Classmates in Washington-commit Nathaniel Kalepo (lineman) and Garfield transfer Sammy King (defensive back) will be key in reaching the goal.
Bishop Blanchet: In the Metro’s new tiered system, the Braves’ 5-0 finish in the Sound Division moved Blanchet to the top-tier Mountain Division. The senior-laden roster is led by three-star tackle Cole Thomas. Longtime assistant Dom Salle replaced Kyle Moore, who stepped down to concentrate on his businesses.
Lakeside: The Lions moved to the Sound Division after winning the Valley title last season, and the “interim” tag was removed from coach Mike Lendel’s title. Under center is junior Jack Dickerson, who led Lakeside to the state tournament as a freshman.
West Seattle: The Wildcats have 13 seniors who returned despite a winless 2017 season that dropped the program to the Valley Division. Former Kent-Meridian coach Jeff Scott will lead the team, bringing his defensive and offensive coordinators with him to rebuild tradition.
Five players to watch
Sav’ell Smalls, Garfield, Jr., OLB
The five-star recruit wants to be a leader and the inexperienced roster will give him a good challenge. Smalls will be a go-to player on offense and defense in getting back to the postseason.
Orin Patu, Rainier Beach, Sr., OLB
Although Orin transferred with his family from Oregon, the Cal-commit is no stranger as Patus have had success at Beach before. He’ll be a threat on defense with his quickness.
Dontae McMillian, Chief Sealth, Sr., RB/SS
The three-star back is why the Seahawks experienced success and moved up to the Sound Division this year. McMillian is mesmerizing with the ball, surpassing 1,500 yards last season.
Mark Tafia, O’Dea, Sr., RB
As the second option in a run-first offense, Tafia rushed for 502 yards on 51 carries, scoring six touchdowns last year. The numbers should double as he’s asked to do more for the defending champions.
Michael Franklin, Eastside Catholic, Jr., QB
Many pegged him as a player to watch his freshman year. Franklin broke his left collarbone, missing most of last season. Has the receivers and talent to demand attention.