Dawn of a new era for Mariner football
Last updated 8/31/2022 at 12:08pm
New coach Tyler Tuiasosopo has lofty ambitions for the Mariner football program.
"I want to build Mariner into the mecca of high school football," Tuiasosopo said. "There is so much potential in this high school. I want to bring Mariner to the forefront of football."
The 2008 Mariner graduate has the credentials to back up his talk both as a player and coach. As the quarterback, he led the Marauders to the state playoffs twice. Tuiasosopo then went on to play college ball at UCLA, Long Beach City College, and Azusa Pacific University.
After several assistant coaching positions, including at Mariner under former coach Mark Stewart, Tuiasosopo was hired at Western High in Las Vegas. In his first and only season, Western High snapped a 43-game losing streak. Tuiasosopo then spent three years at Mater Academy East Las Vegas, a new charter high school.
Last fall, Stewart announced his retirement at the end of the season, and Tuiasosopo jumped at the opportunity to return home to the Pacific Northwest with his wife Breanna, a Lake Stevens alumna, son Roman, and daughter Lilly.
Coming back to Mariner was always in the back of Tuiasosopo's mind. As far back as the seventh grade, Tuiasosopo said he had dreams of one day becoming the head football coach at Mariner.
Football is a family tradition for Tuiasosopo. Uncle Mano played for the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers and cousin Marques was an Oakland Raider.
Even before the first week of practice, many of the players already knew Tuiasosopo and three of his assistant coaches who decided to uproot their lives in Las Vegas and join him at Mariner. In the spring, Tuiasosopo and his assistants started traveling up to Mariner once a month to get to know their players.
"A lot of the players were doing basketball and wrestling. We wanted to support them," Tuiasosopo said. "We wanted to see what we've got. We watched them on film, but we wanted to come up and see them do their thing. We also saw them in the hallways. They were coming back from COVID. We had a list of things we needed to do. We needed to see them in the classroom and in their extracurricular activities. We wanted to check their grades and talk to other teachers."
All the work Tuiasosopo put in during the spring paid off this summer and in the first week of practices.
"It's been a lot of fun because we've put in a lot of work and effort into the springtime," Tuiasosopo said.
Senior running back Cartez Williams said he and his teammates are being challenged by Tuiasosopo, but in a good way. Tuiasosopo and his staff have made conditioning a top priority.
"We like the hard work," Williams said. "They're making us work hard. We just love that from them. They're making us better on the field and in the classroom. They're hard-working. They show us their hard work and put that onto us."
Senior wide receiver Macky James likes the discipline Tuiasosopo brings and expects from players.
"He brings a lot of leadership," James added. "He wants more seniors to be leaders. He's a good thing for Mariner."
For the first time in a while as a coach, Tuiasosopo doesn't know who his starting quarterback will be yet.
"I have a true quarterback competition," he said.
Senior Damien Bagley returns after starting last season. His rival is junior Isaiah Cuellar, who also is a basketball standout.
"Damien Bagley is a phenomenal senior. He's had a great summer. He's been here every day," Tuiasosopo said. "Isaiah brings a lot of energy and a lot of juice. I'm fired up with his potential. The team moves differently with him. Both guys will be on the field."
If Bagley is not playing quarterback, he'll be in the backfield as a running back. Cuellar will see action at wide receiver if he's not calling the signals.
"Isaiah and Damien are both great quarterbacks battling for the position," James said. "It's good to have battles. We like competition."
The two quarterbacks also will be playing defense, as will Williams and James.
"A lot of guys will be playing both ways," Tuiasosopo said. "We'll be playing our best players. ... They'll get their breaks and rest."
The run-oriented Mariner offense is changing this year to what Tuiasosopo hopes will be a more balanced attack – 60% pass and 40% run.
"I like to pass to open up the run," Tuiasosopo said. "I like to spread it out instead of being compact. I want the offense to be exciting and to be uptempo."
Even with the transition of a new head coach and three new assistants (five assistant coaches were retained), the expectations are high for Mariner.
"I can tell you that this year is our year," Bagley said. "Hopefully, we make playoffs and state. The coaches push us hard and that's a great thing."
James echoes his teammate's sentiments.
"The coaches have high expectations for us, and we're going to fulfill them."