Defensive end Corbin Hartsock, center, will have his hands full Friday night when he matches up against Graham-Kapowsin’s Foster Sarell. Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com
Defensive end Corbin Hartsock, center, will have his hands full Friday night when he matches up against Graham-Kapowsin’s Foster Sarell. Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com

High School Sports

No defense has solved Graham-Kapowsin’s Foster Sarell yet, but Olympia’s will be latest to try

By Lauren Smith

lsmith@theolympian.com

October 13, 2016 10:51 PM

UPDATED October 14, 2016 01:23 PM

Corbin Hartsock knows Foster Sarell is big. He knows Sarell is strong. He knows that nothing — absolutely nothing, several coaches in the Class 4A South Puget Sound League admit — has worked to stop Sarell this season.

This week, Hartsock will try to overcome the nation’s top-ranked senior offensive line recruit.

Sarell is a 6-foot-7, 310-pound offensive tackle for Graham-Kapowsin High School. He has college offers from programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame and Stanford.

Earlier this week, he accepted an invitation to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a nationally broadcast game featuring some of the nation’s top recruits at the Alamodome in San Antonio in January.

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Sarell, needless to say, is a big-time problem for opposing defenses.

Hartsock will be the latest player to line up against him Friday night at Ingersoll Stadium when Olympia (5-1, 5-1 4A SPSL) hosts sixth-ranked Graham-Kapowsin (5-1, 4-1).

“I’ve just always played my game,” Hartsock said. “Go out there, don’t be scared. You can’t be scared. Just do your thing.”

Hartsock is a 6-4, 220-pound defensive end for the Bears. He’s played football since the third grade — a good sport for him, because he’s always had an aggressive edge, he said.

“It keeps you disciplined,” Hartsock said. “It keeps you ready for anything.”

Things like this week.

“He takes the approach each week of facing good offensive lineman,” Olympia coach Bill Beattie said. “He’s taller than most of the guys, but he’s used to having guys that are bigger than him.

“He’s a really driven young man, and like anyone who has to play (Sarell), you have to get fired up, give your best effort, and see what you can do.”

 
Graham-Kapowsin High School offensive lineman Foster Sarell is the top-ranked recruit in the nation at his position. He is 6-foot-7, 310 pounds. Dean J. Koepfler - dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com

Others in the 4A SPSL, so far, haven’t been able to do much.

“He’s a dynamic player that has such a great skill set, and I don’t think you can prepare for such a great athlete,” Emerald Ridge coach Troy Halfaday said.

Halfaday has seen Sarell play since his days at Glacier View Middle School. He likened Sarell — as have others — to former Puyallup standout and current San Francisco 49er rookie Josh Garnett.

South Kitsap coach Gavin Kralik, who formerly coached at Bethel, said he thinks Sarell is further along than Garnett at this age. He remembers Sarell as a freshman.

“They’ve always had a really good offensive line,” Kralik recalled. “Preseason, they were talking about how great their best lineman was, who was a freshman. I was thinking they were blowing up a kid who was a good player, not great.

“Yeah, he was dominant then.”

He still is now. Micah Smith, Graham-Kapowsin’s running back, is one of the top rushers in the South Sound, amassing 1,143 yards and 16 touchdowns on 125 carries behind Sarell and the Eagles’ sturdy offensive line.

“We didn’t solve Foster or Micah,” said Sumner coach Keith Ross, whose Spartans handed Graham-Kapowsin its only loss of the season. “We haven’t given up 200 yards in years. Their running game is pretty dominant.”

They gave up 233 to Smith, including a 70-yard touchdown run. Yet, the Spartans still managed to hand Graham-Kapowsin its only loss of the season — they did the same to Olympia last week.

It had nothing to do with Sarell — he was still a puzzle.

“We tried the biggest guy, we tried a short, stalky guy, we tried not lining up on him — we tried a bunch of things,” Ross said. “I don’t think anything worked. I’ve never seen someone so dominant in 19 years (of coaching). He takes two or three people every play.”

Highlights: Connor Wedington’s kick return TD lifts Spartans 

Despite dropping a 34-27 loss to Sumner, Graham-Kapowsin's 27 points were the second-most scored on the Spartans this season. Only Puyallup has scored more, losing to Sumner, 76-35.

By TJ Cotterill, Kevin Manning and Lauren Smith tcotterill@thenewstribune.com; kmanning@thepuyallupherald.com

Every team has a different approach for Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle’s biggest asset.

“Sometimes people put their best player against him,” Kurle said. “Sometimes they put a weaker player. Sometimes they try to cut him and make a pile.

“For the most part, people have done different things, and tried different things, and he’s done well to overcome the challenges.”

Emerald Ridge just tried to hold ground. Curtis tried to play Sarell from the outside and sometimes avoided him completely, dropping its defensive end into coverage to spy the quarterback.

You’re going to get blocked by him. The question is, how much are you going to get moved? … You’re trying to limit the damage he does.

South Kitsap coach Gavin Kralik on Foster Sarell

“We can rush a kid against him all day, but that kid is never going to get there,” Curtis coach Chris Paulson said. “We, at times, would drop nine guys into coverage because we did not want to rush against Foster Sarell.”

South Kitsap tried to run its base 4-3 defense, and keep Sarell off of its linebackers — he has a habit of effectively blocking lineman into linebackers. Kralik’s plan didn’t work out well either.

“You’re going to get blocked by him,” Kralik said. “The question is, how much are you going to get moved? … You’re trying to limit the damage he does.”

“It’s like a big truck moving down the freeway,” Halfaday said. “You don’t know how fast it’s coming. When it hits you, you realize the pile it left behind it.”

So, is there anything an opposing team can do to against Sarell?

Ross chuckled at the question — nothing works, he said.

“I don’t think so,” Paulson said. “Hope Eric doesn’t run behind him? That’s your best bet.”

There’s no way to simulate Sarell, Halfaday said, which makes preparation tough.

“There’s no way to prepare in practice,” Halfaday said. “We don’t have a guy, we don’t even have a coach that talented.”

Beattie, who was an offensive lineman at Tumwater and Central Washington University, and assistant coach Steve Davis, considered padding up on Olympia’s scout team.

They opted not to, and Beattie said, while Sarell is certainly on his radar, the Bears put more focus on what their team can do, rather than who is coming to visit.

“You can only farm your own land,” Beattie said. “We can’t control what they have or what they do. We can understand what they do, but really it’s all about us doing it better.”

 
Olympia's defense is allowing an average of 24.5 pointer per game, the third lowest in the 4A SPSL. The Bears have tallied 21 sacks and 27 tackles for losses. Dean J. Koepfler - dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com

Olympia — which is allowing 24.5 points per game this season — is one of the sounder defenses Graham-Kapowsin will face in the 4A SPSL this season.

It has tallied 21 sacks and 27 tackles for losses. Hartsock, who lines up alongside Amir Matheney and Peter Choi on the defensive line, has five sacks and 11 tackles for losses.

“Olympia has one of the best defensive lines, and that will be a great challenge for Foster and the rest of our line,” Kurle said. “Their nose guard (Matheney), and their tight end-defensive end (Hartsock) are very good.

“They do a great job, so it’ll be a nice challenge for both teams.”

Olympia doesn’t have the size advantage — it never has, said Beattie, now in his 22nd season with the program.

“We just play together as a team,” Hartsock said. “We get after it. … When we get together, we can do anything. It’s not any individual players. We don’t have the three- or four-star athletes.”

The program tries to create advantages in two ways. They learn a team’s tendencies, by formation and personnel. They picked up nine watching film on Sumner.

You can only farm your own land. We can’t control what they have or what they do. We can understand what they do, but really it’s all about us doing it better.

Olympia coach Bill Beattie

“I kind of equate us to the Air Force Academy,” Beattie said. “You look at a bunch of average guys, but they’re disciplined. They will know Graham-Kapowsin’s offense.”

The second way is speed. Beattie said the Bears work on being fast and explosive.

“We just try to beat everyone to the punch,” he said. “Everyone’s got a gap, we know that, but we are flying to that gap.”

Olympia rarely makes mistakes, Kurle said, which could frustrate the Eagles.

“I don’t think they have any weaknesses,” he said. “They’re very solid everywhere.”

His program is similar — plenty of options, not a ton of errors. It’s not just Sarell, either.

“Everything needs to be stopped,” Hartsock said. “So we’re working on all of it.”

 
Olympia defensive end Corbin Hartsock, a junior, has tallied five sacks and 11 tackles for losses in six games this season. Peter Haley - phaley@thenewstribune.com

Though, Hartsock will have a focal point each time he takes the field on defense. It is Sarell.

“I’ve studied him every day since I found out I was going to be against him,” Hartsock said.

That was at the beginning of the season, so he’s had time to prepare. Hartsock has his own strengths — speed off the ball, fast hands, fast feet.

“The best advice I can give to Corbin is just to go,” Beattie said. “You can’t hesitate.”

Hartsock is eager for the opportunity. The chance to line up across from a five-star offensive line recruit?

“I want that challenge,” he said.