The King's Academy football coaching staff went into the offseason knowing it had to develop a more potent passing game if it wanted to improve on last year's solid third-place finish in the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division.
Daily Journal Sports File
Running back Amir Carlisle, who has verbally committed to Stanford, rushed for over 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns last season.
Coach Ron Kellner feels confident the Knights have done just that, but make no mistake: Much of TKA's success will rest on the shoulders of dynamic Stanford-bound tailback Amir Carlisle, who rushed for 2,037 yards and 26 touchdowns while averaging 11 yards per carry last season.
"We're not stupid," Kellner said. "Amir is awesome and looks better than ever, which is kind of odd because he was pretty good last year."
That's a scary thought for the rest of the PAL. But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Carlisle is one of those rare athletes whose production has matched -- perhaps even exceeded, if possible -- the enormous hype that has followed him. Possessing tremendous speed, elusiveness and vision, Carlisle can also change direction on a moment's notice, often times leaving defenders grabbing at nothing but air.
He runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and has a 38 inch vertical leap. Although Carlisle might not be big for an incoming Division I back, he's a powerful force at the high school level. Carlisle has shown the ability to not only elude and blow past defenders, but bowl over them as well. However, if teams focus all their efforts on Carlisle, his backfield mate -- LeeRoy Richardson -- is plenty capable of making them pay.
"The kid can bring it," Kellner said, referring to Richardson.
Also an outstanding linebacker, Richardson combines speed and power to make an impact on both sides of the ball. If the Knights can establish an effective passing attack, look out. Their offense averaged 375 yards per game last year, but only 45 came through the air. The parts are seemingly all there for TKA to be more balanced.
Senior quarterback Nathaniel Recine saw some action last year and is poised to make the passing game a legitimate threat. Kellner said Recine should have plenty of options to throw to, including senior tight end Ben Leong and receiver Stephen Kmak. Leong figures to be the go-to guy on key third-down plays; the 6-2, 195-pounder also plays defensive end and in the secondary.
"We honestly believe more than ever we're going to be throwing the ball (as a weapon and not just to switch things up)," Kellner said. "We feel good about what we've got with Nathaniel and our receivers, and with our personnel on the line. We've been committed to upgrade our passing, and we're more determined than ever to put the ball up in the air."
The Knights return 12 starters from last year's team and 22 seniors total, including stalwart linemen Ben Jendricks and Gunnar Loos. Jendricks plays offensive and defensive tackle and has the proverbial motor that never stops, while defensive tackle Loos utilizes brute force -- he's 6-2, 255 pounds -- to clog up the middle. Kellner is also high on center Jeremy Wilczek, a 6-3, 310-pound senior who lost 50 pounds over the offseason.
"We're looking for big things out of Jeremy," Kellner said. "Even though he started some games for us last year, he's one of our most improved players."
TKA prides itself on having tough and durable linemen. No one exemplifies that more than the 6-3, 230-pound Jendricks, who has run a 6 minute, 30 second mile.
"He's in incredible shape and can outwork anyone," Kellner said.
While TKA was hurt by a lack of depth last season, this year is a different story. The Knights have a 36-man roster, and even more importantly, backup players capable of filling the void if a starter goes down.
"Last year as the season went on, we started losing kids to injuries, the attrition started building up and we got weaker and weaker," Kellner said. "We have more depth this year, which is always a big plus."
The Knights have a promising player in junior cornerback Amir Pappu, who along with Kmak are the anchors of the secondary. In addition to upgrading the passing game, Kellner and his coaching staff felt the team has improved on the defensive front as well. TKA allowed 37 and 43 points in wins over Woodside and Jefferson, respectively, and yielded 59 in a season-ending loss to Carmel in a CCS Division IV playoff semifinal last season.
"We're looking for some big things out of our defense, and if that happens I feel we can be right in the mix (of teams contending for the Bay championship)," Kellner said.
Coach: Ron Kellner, seventh year
2009 record: 8-4, 3-2 PAL Bay
Returning starters: 12
Key returners: RB Amir Carlisle (Sr. 5-11, 181); RB/LB LeeRoy Richardson (Sr. 5-8, 190); TE/DE Ben Leong (Sr. 6-2, 195); WR/Safety Steven Kmak (Jr. 5-11, 165)
Key newcomer: CB Amir Pappu (Jr. 5-6, 145)