It started in the summer at Foster Sarell’s house.
The offensive linemen for the Graham-Kapowsin High School football team spent most their offseason honing what is now their greatest attribute — chemistry. Those hot summer days swimming in Sarell’s pool, competing on his Pickleball court or playing video games, putt-putt golfing or hitting the driving range might as well have been part of their offseason conditioning.
“I think they would rather play golf than play football sometimes,” G-K coach Eric Kurle said.
They call themselves the Trench Crew.
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There’s left tackle Sarell (last year’s 4A SPSL South lineman of the year and one of the 10 best 2017 recruits in the nation, according to most major scouting services), right tackle Elijah Lugo (this year’s co-lineman of the year), left guard Matt Shook (first team), center and coach’s kid Ian Kurle (second team) and right guard De’Andre Houston (honorable mention).
It’s hard to fathom an offensive line in the state that’s better.
“I’ve seen some good ones, but I’ve been coaching in this league for 21 years and this is one of the best O-lines I’ve seen in a long time,” Spanaway Lake coach John Robak said.
Each player brings something different to the trenches, but all are physical and all have to be fast with how many pulling counters, sweeps and traps that Eric Kurle calls.
Oh, and (most) all of them are big.
“I’m 6-foot-6 and a half … but 6-7 with my cleats on,” Sarell said.
“I’m 6-5 and a half,” Lugo said.
“And I’m 6-10 … OK, maybe 5-8 … and a half,” Houston said.
“I’m 6-5,” Shook said.
“OK, I’m 6-4,” he said.
“Then Elijah’s 6-3 because you’re taller than him,” Sarell interjected.
“What happened to the ‘with cleats on I’m 6-7?’ ” Shook snarked.
“You guys are all over 6-foot, be happy,” said Houston.
And Ian Kurle, the only one who wasn’t a starter last season, said he’s 5-11.
“Ian is the brains of the offensive line,” Lugo said.
“He’s a smart kid,” Eric Kurle said. “A lot smarter than his dad.”
Sarell and Lugo are Graham-Kapowsin’s most physical linemen, and it’s why they’re the bookend tackles, while Eric Kurle said Houston is as good a pulling guard as he has ever had.
Shook has the frame and athleticism, but Eric Kurle said he will become a dominant lineman once he gets stronger.
“And Matt is really flexible,” Lugo said.
“Do the thing!” Sarell demanded.
Shook immediately squatted, his hindquarters touching the ground. He held there for a couple of seconds before popping back up.
“That’s just natural,” Sarell deadpanned.
Probably more impressive, though, was how he filled in for Sarell for eight games this season.
Sarell dislocated a forearm bone in his right arm in the first game and didn’t return until the regular-season finale against Bethel. Shook slid to left tackle while freshman Ethan Tela-Porter became the new left guard.
“I panicked a little bit,” Shook said. “Me moving to left tackle was hard because I had to learn everything. The plays are a lot different there than at guard.”
It could have easily derailed Graham-Kapowsin’s hopes of completing an undefeated regular season and winning the 4A SPSL South title.
Instead, that patchwork line helped G-K’s stable of running backs rush for more than 2,000 yards as a team this season (after Teague James ran for more than 2,000 yards two seasons ago and Shannon Edwards ran for more than 2,000 last year).
“It was a very good group even without Foster,” Eric Kurle said.
Said Robak: “You watch them and they look like a bunch of clones. They all have great footwork and they keep finishing blocks. You very rarely see them with a man unblocked. They make sure your defensive linemen aren’t going to be making plays.
“You’ve just got to bring your ‘A’ game and be very, very physical. And, boy, you better get off on the snap and come with an attitude or they are going to hand you your lunch. Eric and I are like best friends. And he was telling me that this is the deepest and one of the most solid offensive lines he has had.”
While Sarell was hurt, he spent his time as a pseudo assistant coach. He often could be seen on the sideline with a bucket hat and an iPad.
“And I probably said stuff that didn’t matter, but I would say anyway,” Sarell said.
“Somebody thought I was (coach) Kurle one time. It was a little weird. They tapped me on the back and I turned around and they were like, ‘Whoa, you’re not Kurle.’ ”
Then he returned to the line and has since helped G-K rush for almost 700 yards in two playoff wins.
Graham-Kapowsin will try to reach the 4A state semifinals for the second consecutive season (and only the second time in school history) when it hosts unbeaten Lake Stevens at Art Crate Field at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Most coaches would say these cold, late-season playoff games are won in the trenches.
Fortunately for G-K, it has a Trench Crew.
“In 2007, we had a really good group and this is a close group like they were,” Eric Kurle said. “Everything they do, they do a lot of it together. We got the really big star in Foster and then Lugo is right there, and then a bunch of really good football players inside of them.
“We pride ourselves on having great offensive linemen. They’re a big part of our offensive system, so we have to have good linemen. But when you have great ones like this? You get to play longer and keep playing on Saturdays and Fridays in the playoffs.”
Graham-Kapowsin’s Trench Crew
G-K is 11-0 entering its state quarterfinal matchup with Lake Stevens at 1 p.m. Saturday behind a dominant offensive line that features one of the top recruits in the nation, Foster Sarell, and the 4A SPSL South’s co-lineman of the year, Elijah Lugo, as its bookend tackles.
LT FOSTER SARELL
Height: 6-6 1/2
4A SPSL South honors: None
What he brings: Might be easier to ask what he doesn’t bring. Even when he missed eight games with a dislocated ulna bone in his right forearm, he stepped in with his bucket hat and iPad and acted as another assistant coach. The team has rushed for almost 700 yards in two playoff games since his return. “Foster brings the power, obviously,” Lugo said. “Nobody in the state brings the power that Foster does. He overpowers everybody.” Sarell is ranked by Scout.com as the No. 7 overall 2017 recruit in the nation. “When he was on the sideline he was helping out with the iPads, helping out with the fronts, and just doing everything he could to help and he was right there the whole time,” coach Eric Kurle said. “There’s a lot of superstars who would sit back during that time and not continue to work hard, but he just stayed right there and worked really hard throughout the whole thing.”
LG MATT SHOOK
4A SPSL South honors: First team
What he brings: Who was asked to take over for Foster Sarell when he got injured in the season-opener against Kentlake? Shook. The offensive line didn’t immediately sync without Sarell their first game without him against Thomas Jefferson, but it got a lot better. The Eagles won all eight games without Sarell. “We believe we have the best offensive line in the state,” Shook said. G-K can thank Shook and his ability to learn a new position for that. “Shook is very athletic, just not as strong as he needs to be yet,” said coach Eric Kurle. “He will be a dominant lineman. He has great technique and a good frame.”
C IAN KURLE
4A SPSL South honors: Second team
What he brings: His father and coach Eric Kurle said Ian Kurle is almost always in the right position at the right time. As the center, he’s either taking on a nose tackle or blocking linebackers at the second level. He used to be a fullback and linebacker, which helps him in understanding where to cut off their angles. “Ian is the brains of the offensive line,” said Elijah Lugo. Eric Kurle was a quarterback at Puyallup High before heading to Pacific Lutheran. “(Ian) pancaked (former linebacker) Danny Lorenz last year,” Sarell said. “I remember that. That was funny.”
RG DE’ANDRE HOUSTON
Height: 5-8 ½
4A SPSL South honors: Honorable mention
What he brings: Sure, he’s the smallest of the group, but isn’t afraid to take on the defense’s biggest players. And being a guard, he’s asked to pull on most every running play. “De’Andre can pull as well as any kid I’ve ever had,” coach Eric Kurle said. His Trench Crewmates said Houston is one of the most communicative on the line. “He disappears and then bam, he’s right there. You don’t even see him,” said Sarell.
RT ELIJAH LUGO
Height: 6-4 ½
4A SPSL South honors: Co-offensive lineman of the year
What he brings: Sarell was last year’s 4A SPSL South lineman of the year, but with him missing eight games, that allowed Lugo to get some of the spotlight, earning the same honor alongside Curtis’ Elijah Piper this season after being named to the first-team last season. Lugo said he’s considering attending the Naval Academy next year. “I think Lugo is a lot like Foster,” coach Eric Kurle said. “A physical guy who can get on it, is real smart and can take over a guy.”
LG ETHAN TELA-PORTER
4A SPSL South honors: Honorable mention
What he brings: What made the adjustment to life without Foster Sarell easier was that Sarell spent most of spring football out with nagging injuries. So Tela-Porter got plenty of reps in along the offensive line before the season. Then when Sarell went down after the season-opener, Tela-Porter slid in at left guard. Now that Sarell is back, he is now along the defensive line. “Ethan is probably the most athletic, quickest feet I’ve seen besides Foster,” coach Eric Kurle said. “And we all know how big and quick and athletic he is. But Ethan is real athletic, too. Now he’s starting on our defensive line and he’s arguably our best defensive lineman. He can get after it and run.” It took the line a game to click without Sarell, but now that he’s back? “Now we are really clicking,” Kurle said.