Scott Morgan walks the practice field with the look of a linebacker. The sun gleams off his shaved head and sporty, white-brimmed sunglasses.
Music plays in the background, but this is Monday, so it’s a bit more quiet at Thomas Jefferson High School than it will later this week, when he’ll turn the volume up on the speakers so loud that the coaches and players will have to scream to communicate.
Morgan spent 12 years as a defensive coordinator. This is his first as a head coach, and the third these Jefferson seniors have endured in their four years.
It’s only fitting they begin this new year with a new coach and in a new league, entering the Olympic division of the 4A North Puget Sound League after playing last year in the 4A South Puget Sound League Northwest and winning an outright league title for the first time in school history.
"It’s like a fresh start," Morgan said. "It’s a fresh start for us, it’s a fresh start for our kids."
He took over this year after being the defensive coordinator for Jeff Zenisek last year. Zenisek took over this year at White River, moving so he could be closer to his home.
Morgan said he’s built for coaching at a school like this with its myriad of daily challenges for the school on the outskirts of Federal Way.
"Here’s the thing – we are always going to be an underdog here at Thomas Jefferson," Morgan said. "We don’t have the money and we don’t have the resources and I’m OK with that. I’ve been OK with that. That was one of the reasons I wanted to coach here, one of the reasons I wanted to teach here. I’m a big underdog believer."
The Raiders return five starters on offense and five on defense from a year ago, when they reached the 4A district playoffs before losing 17-14 to Mt. Si and finishing 7-3.
They lost the 4A SPSL’s rushing leader, Kenneth Turner, who is now at Idaho State University after gaining 1,665 yards and 25 total touchdowns. First-team all-league linebacker Justin Madden graduated, lineman Da’karai Saunders and defensive back Tyson Sonnenfeld graduated, too.
But this year’s team will be faster.
Morgan said that quarterback Mason De La Cruz won’t be eligible to play until the third week of the season because he’s missed practices for baseball obligations. He’s committed to Washington State University for baseball.
In the meantime, Jsais McKinley will move from running back to quarterback in his place. Treshawn Roberts will play some QB, too.
They’ll cater to his running abilities, implementing some triple-option schemes. McKinley said he’s got all the plays down – it’s nothing he hasn’t done on Madden.
"I play the game a lot and that’s all I run on Madden," McKinley said. "If it’s not with Russell Wilson, it’s with Cam Newton."
The coaches love the team speed overall. Not just with McKinley but junior running back Jayvon Buckley and senior wide receiver Leontre Griffin, who Morgan said was clocked at a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.
Granted, Morgan admits that’s coach clock and not quite close to a laser-timed 40.
"But let’s put it this way – he’s the fastest kid we’ve ever had here," Morgan said. "We’ll use him anywhere we can. Anywhere but the line."
Senior offensive lineman Andrew Fernandez said Morgan makes practices fun.
"It’s been great with Coach Morgan," Fernandez said. "He really pushes us to be a family and stick together, even through the tough times. He’s not a traditional coach where it’s just run, run, run. He likes to make things fun and make it so you’re having fun while you’re running."
The biggest difference now that Morgan is the coach and not the defensive coordinator?
"There is more paperwork," Morgan said. "A lot more paperwork."
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677