Justin Callander returns to a familiar place, surrounded by seasoned coaches he knows so well and working with players he understands.
He very much personifies Kent-Meridian High.
“It’s great, exciting. It’s like I never left,” said Callander, the Royals’ new football head coach, who spent last season on Coach Tony Davis’ staff at Tahoma. “I love it here. I plan on being here for the next 25 years. I’m going to retire as the head football coach here, and continue to coach track here and build a winning program.”
Callander succeeds Brett Allen, whom he worked under as the offensive line coach for four seasons. Allen remains at K-M, having decided to step aside to give his friend a shot to lead a young program trying to regain its feet.
At K-M, the struggles to compete against larger programs continue. The Royals, 2-18 the past two seasons, have turned to Callander to rebuild, and, at some positions, reload.
Players like what they’re seeing and hearing.
“We actually feel like we have a chance to win some games this year,” said senior Jassan Kaloga, a free safety and one of three developing quarterbacks on the roster. “We’re just trying to change the culture … bring back real K-M football, winning football.
“I feel good about Coach Callendar. I’m glad he’s back.”
Callander’s work starts up front, an area he’s comfortable with as a former center and guard at Willamette University. He enjoys showing big guys how to explode off the line of scrimmage, step, pull, trap and finish blocks. The Royals are talented and nine deep along the line this season.
“It’s fun to be a teacher, and I really look at it that way,” Callendar said. “We have a special group up front. They’re our strongest group, a lot of experience … a good group of guys who work hard. They’re the first group here, and they always want to weight lift after (practice).”
Faleatua Areta, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior and a second-team all-North Puget Sound League Cascade Division player last season, and tight end and linebacker Aaron Tulloch (6-3, 235, senior) will lead the way.
Isaac Cordova, a senior who gained the starting quarterback job late in his sophomore season, returns to trigger the Royals’ read-pass option, spread offense, which offers several promising targets.
“They’re good athletes. Most of them are two-, if not three-sport athletes. That’s something we’re trying to promote here,” Callendar said.
The coaching staff is slowly building the program.
“I think we’re going in the right direction. The kids have bought in,” Callendar said. “They’re working on being disciplined. They’re trying their best. We’ve increased their football knowledge.”
The Royals will compete in the Sound Division of the newly aligned, three-tiered NPSL this season. In an effort to promote better competition, teams were grouped by strength in divisions, the Sound being at the bottom for schools working their way up.
Callendar likes the new arrangement.
“It’s going to help everybody out,” he said. “It’s a motivating factor. For us, we’re in that lower tier, and we all feel we should be in the next tier. ….. We play some teams that are similar in numbers to us.
“We want to win games and do it the right way. We want to build our program,” he added. “We know it’s not going to be an overnight success, but we want to do the right things, the right way and build that foundation to get into that upper tier, the Mountain Division, and that’s our goal. We expect to be there, honestly, in three years.”
Kent-Meridian opens its season Thursday at home against Issaquah. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at French Field.