The big — 6 foot 6, 315 pounder — lineman committed to Washington earlier this month. He’ll anchor a solid offensive line for the Vikings.
It’s a classic survival move: Dominate the biggest guy in the room, and the rest will fall back.
Jarrell Anderson, a transfer from Bethel, tried the tactic at a Rainier Beach football practice. The defensive end motioned junior Nathaniel Kalepo to partner on a drill. At 6 feet 6 and 315 pounds, Kalepo is the biggest player on the Vikings’ roster.
“It wasn’t the best of my ideas,” said Anderson, a 6-4, 218-pound senior. “It’s kind of like going up against another Foster Sarell in practice every day. Nathaniel is a special talent.”
Metro League at a glance
Five teams to watch
Eastside Catholic: They lost a lot of talent, but they’re still a favorite to win the Class 3A state title. Returning QB Zach Lewis and safety Malik Putney will make sure things run well.
O’Dea: Overtime loss in 2016 Class 3A state-championship game was a motivator during the offseason. Primed to contend for a 24th league title and make noise in the playoffs.
Seattle Prep: It’s Year 2 for Panthers coach Aaron Maul, and a return postseason trip is expected. Senior Jaxon Woodward is new at quarterback, but there’s the same dynamic playmaker in senior Brennan Holmes.
Garfield: Four of the Bulldogs’ eight opponents have played for a state championship within the past two years. Talented roster can handle the pressure.
Rainier Beach: League realignment made every game a playoff-caliber game. Vikings have a new quarterback in transfer Max Nall and talented offensive lineman in UW commit Nathaniel Kalepo.
Five players to watch
WR/CB, 6-2, 190, Sr., Garfield
Outlook: Four-star recruit committed to Oregon in June. Had 1,480 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns last season, but he’s catching balls from a new QB this year.
QB, 6-0, 180, Sr., Eastside Catholic
Outlook: Gifted play-caller has an inexperienced receiving corps, which could make repeating last year’s stats of 3,475 passing yards with 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions a challenge.
RB/FS, 6-0, 195, Sr., O’Dea
Outlook: The playmaker averaged 105.2 yards per game last season in helping the Irish reach the Class 3A state-title game. Returns as the focal point of the offense.
OL/DL, 6-6, 315, Jr., Rainier Beach
Outlook: Committed to Washington earlier this month. Listed as a four-star prospect and will anchor a solid offensive line for the Vikings this season.
WR, 6-0, 195, Sr., Eastside Catholic
Outlook: Will be leaned on more after the graduation of receiver Hunter Bryant, who’s now at Washington. Had 27 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Bethel is a rival school for Graham-Kapowsin, pitting Anderson against Sarell for two seasons as an underclassman. Sarell, who’s 6-6 and 310 pounds, was the top offensive tackle in the nation and now plays for Stanford.
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Kalepo is a four-star offensive lineman who committed this month to play at the University of Washington.
“It’s kind of surreal because you’re going up against somebody that’s going to be a Division I kid and has talent to go to the NFL,” Anderson said. “At the same time, it’s not because they have all the tools in their toolbox and getting pancaked is not fun.
“But it gets me better playing defense. Maybe, once I have kids, I can tell them I went up against two NFL offensive tackles in high school.”
Kalepo was a long way from even being considered a potential college player his freshman year. Still the biggest at 6-2 and roughly 240 pounds, Kalepo was easily pushed around.
Teammates such as Rainier Beach receiver/defensive back Darrien Sampson, son of Vikings coach Corey, were constantly encouraging Kalepo to work harder because they saw the talent. This summer, it clicked for Kalepo after training at Ford Sports Performance and against Sarell a few times.
“I worked out like three times a week at FSP. I also came up here (Beach) and ran at 6 a.m.,” Kalepo said. “It’s the hardest I’ve ever trained. But not my diet — I just eat.”
The Kalepo who appeared at the first day of official practice this season is what Corey Sampson envisioned years ago. Kalepo will team with seniors TJ Mauigoa and Marcus Pressley Jr. as core pieces of a formidable offensive line.
The Vikings have a new quarterback in Max Nall, an All-Metro League transfer from Garfield, and they have experienced receivers like senior Mason Starling and Derek McKinney Jr., who played quarterback last season. Running the ball are seniors Freddie Roberson and Anthony Stell.
“A lot of these guys have been together for a long time and been through the grind, some starting as freshmen,” said Corey Sampson, who had just 18 players when he took over the program in 2014. “With Nate, we knew he was going to be great because he was big, athletic, smart and willing to work. Mentally, he wasn’t there yet, but we knew the 2018, 2019 seasons, with him, were going to be special.”
There is one change. The Metro League approved a three-tiered realignment where the 18 teams are divided into six divisions depending on competitiveness.
Rainier Beach was 5-1 (7-3 overall) in its division last season, losing to Seattle Prep 17-14. Beach was grouped in the top tier this year with O’Dea — the 2016 Class 3A state runner-up — Eastside Catholic, Seattle Prep, Garfield and Roosevelt. ECHS won the 2015 and 2014 state titles.
“Man, it’s tough because we don’t have depth like the private schools,” Sampson said of Seattle Prep, O’Dea and Eastside Catholic. “We have to train mentally and physically to be in a playofflike game every week. But we have eight D-I players on our team and talent where some guys don’t have to play both ways. We’ve just got to make sure we keep everybody healthy.”
Anderson, one of the leaders of the hard-hitting defense, is doing his part in getting Kalepo ready.
“I learned the hard way that being big isn’t enough,” Kalepo said. “You also have to have technique. I’ve got that and I’m ready. … We think state is possible, but we’ve got to stay together as a team.”