Foster Sarell was overcome with sorrow. Tears ran down his face as he watched his football coach deliver the harrowing news to his mother.
He was done, his coach said. At 9 years old, Sarell was forced to abandon his dreams.
That was the last time he played quarterback.
The now 6-foot-6, 310-pound sophomore at Graham-Kapowsin High School has been playing offensive line ever since and is considered the top O-line prospect in the state. As a sophomore.
So maybe that didn’t turn out so bad.
“I loved quarterback and middle linebacker,” Sarell said. “That’s what I wanted to be. … Those are now the two opposite positions I play.”
And like a good mother, Pam Sarell doesn’t forget to include the details.
“He cried at camp,” she said. “Coach (Eric) Kurle came up to me and said, ‘Your son is not going to be a quarterback.’ Every camp we went to after that, his shoulders would drop and he would cry.”
Pam is 5-foot-8 and Foster’s father, Ryan Sarell, is 6-2. When Foster was 12, he was wearing the same size shoes as his dad — and three months later was a size larger. They have to special order his size 18 football cleats and basketball shoes.
Ask Ryan where his towering son came from, he shrugs his shoulders and points up.
“He just fell out of the sky, man,” Ryan says. “It’s just amazing.”
But size is one thing. Quickness, strength and coordination are another.
Talk to those who’ve been around Foster and you’d think they were speaking of an urban legend. His father simply says he’s baffled — since when does a freshman chuck senior linebackers and defensive ends like they’re third-graders? How does a kid that large pull on a 36 Counter with the explosiveness and precision of a fullback?
“Just in his offensive stance you can see the skill set,” said Curtis coach Clay Angle. “He stays so compact. He’s down low for a big-big guy. And when the ball is snapped, he uncoils like a little guy. It’s scary. He plays like he is 100 pounds lighter.
“He’s as good an offensive lineman as I’ve ever seen.”
And he’s seen some dandies. He saw plenty of Josh Garnett when the Stanford junior played for Puyallup. Garnett graduated the same year USC’s Zach Banner graduated from Lakes.
“The only two players I can remember having, in terms of linemen, the kind of hype at a young age like (Foster) does were Zach Banner and Josh Garnett,” said Brandon Huffman, who has covered recruiting for Scout.com for 12 years. “… He is kind of like a cross between those two.
“And I don’t think I’m crazy right now to say that, in my opinion, he is the best high school prospect, maybe not the best high school football player, but the best high school prospect in the state right now, regardless of class. … And I’ve talked to three or four Pac-12 schools who have all said the same thing.”
What sets Foster apart is how he’s busted the big-man code. They are supposed to be uncoordinated, slow, still growing into their bodies, especially when they’re sophomores.
His parents say he’s always been big and athletic. Foster said he believed he might have been adopted until last summer, when his mom and dad happened to show him video from his birth.
Ryan Sarell talks about his son hitting 350-foot home runs in Little League. For the longest time, Foster and his family believed his future was in basketball.
“Basketball was going to be my thing,” Foster said. “But I don’t think there are many NBA players 6-6, 310 pounds.”
The hardwood is where Foster developed the footwork that now awes on the football field. Well, ever since his mom finally bought him bigger shoes, that is.
Foster ran awkwardly as a kid, almost like a shuffle. Pam says she and Ryan used to make fun of him for it.
But one day she decided to take Foster to a doctor, who said the 7-year-old had hammertoes.
“We didn’t realize it, but it was because he had been wearing the wrong-sized shoes,” said Pam, a teacher at Rogers. “Our daughter (Naomi, who is now at Oregon State) grew one foot size a year where as he was growing three, four sizes.”
Once corrected, it was off to the races. Foster was immersed in AAU basketball, starting with the Vision, before being asked if he would travel the country with Team Washington. They faced teams such as Mike Bibby’s Arizona squad and Jason Terry’s Team Jet of Texas.
“Literally, the first practice, I think I cried,” Foster said. “I got into the best shape of my life that year. We ran and ran.”
He remembers having to run across the I-5 walking bridge near Jennie Reed Elementary six times. He ran three-man weave with his team on a beach in 100-degree Florida weather before a game. He later played for Team Brandon Roy, playing 100 games a year, including what he said were bloodbaths against Seattle Rotary.
Sure, the countless hours working on drop steps and reverse pivots helped him develop into one of the top basketball prospects in the state (Mohawk and all), but that translated perfectly to the footwork needed to excel at left tackle, too. And it was those cutthroat AAU games in standing-room only tournaments in Las Vegas and Beaverton, Oregon, where he learned to play aggressively.
He was a gentle giant off the court, but he couldn’t be on it.
“I’m not talking about the local gym on Saturday. I’m talking about life and death for these guys. ‘My kid is going pro, he is buying me a house, buying me a car’ — that kind of culture,” Ryan Sarell said.
“Big kids have a problem being aggressive, and he did too when he was young because he didn’t want to hurt anybody. You could be nice of the floor, but on those AAU courts it is high octane and competitive like you can’t believe.”
Said Foster: “You couldn’t be nice. You literally couldn’t because if you were, you were going to get destroyed.”
Graham-Kapowsin senior linebacker and fullback Daniel Lorenz said Foster overheard a player for Monroe last week utter something toward Foster along the lines of “Ah, see! He’s not that big.”
“Foster came up to me and was like, ‘I think I heard that dude say I was small.’ And I was like, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’ ” Lorenz said. “So he just kind of took the kid out. It was cool.”
But that’s on the field. Off it Foster enjoys being a sophomore — playing Xbox, going to movies and eating junk food. He enjoys that he lives out in Graham, in a beautiful home built by his dad with a pickleball court, basketball court and pool, where it’s a little more secluded from the spotlight and keeps him from being hounded by recruiters. He already has offers from Washington, Oregon State, Boise State, UCLA and Eastern Washington.
Kurle hadn’t sent Foster’s film to colleges until recently. And his mom keeps tabs on his grades, currently at 3.85 (not good enough by Pam Sarell’s standards), his Twitter account and makes sure he gets to church. It’s helped him stay humble and level-headed despite so much attention at such a young age.
“It’s not easy, it’s never easy. I’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of lifting to get to where I’m at,” Foster said. “And I’m not where I want to be yet. I hold myself to high standards. I should be playing at a college level now. If I’m not, then I’m doing something wrong.
“I think I can do anything I put my mind to. And I see myself doing a lot of things.”
Maybe even playing quarterback.