ISSAQUAH — Almost every Sunday since December, culminated by a three-week camp this summer, Tony Rehn religiously made the long drive to Portland and back, learning how to be a better quarterback.
He threw plenty at the Air Attack quarterback camp but spent even more time perfecting his footwork. It seems appropriate, considering the size of the shoes he's been asked to fill.
The preparation for the 2006 high-school football season officially began Wednesday, with schools across the state holding their first day of fall practice. And Rehn, a 17-year-old senior at Skyline High School in Sammamish, is an answer to the question a lot of people ask around this time of year:
Who's the new guy?
In Bellevue, Daniel Hoesterey will likely start at the tackle spot manned last year by bulldozer Stephen Schilling, a Michigan recruit. Now that Taylor Mays is at USC, Johri Fogerson will play free safety at O'Dea. And up in Ferndale, Casey Locker follows cousin Jake Locker, already appointed Washington's quarterback of the future.
Rehn replaces Jason Harris, The Seattle Times' Class 4A state player of the year who led the Spartans to an undefeated record and a state championship. Harris, now at Eastern Washington, accounted for almost 3,800 yards of offense and 53 touchdowns last year.
How do you step in for a departed star? It's an unenviable task — or an enviable one — depending on your perspective.
The big kickoff
Key season openers:
Aug. 31: Kennedy vs. Lincoln, Highline Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1: Bellevue at Skyline, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2: Eastlake vs. Punahou of Honolulu, 8 p.m. in Emerald City Kickoff Classic, Qwest Field (first of five games is at 9:30 a.m.)
"We understand that nobody's going to be Jake Locker," said Ferndale football coach Jamie Plenkovich. "It's up to us as coaches to make sure that Casey understands our expectations and not worry about what other people think.
"We have to keep communicating that to him, and that it's OK to have some failure too. He's going to make some mistakes. That's part of the learning process."
O'Dea coach Monte Kohler believes most kids don't think too much about their highly publicized predecessors.
"They just look forward to the opportunity to play," Kohler says.
Still, for Rehn, like so many other "new guys," this season represents a chance to shine.
As a sophomore, Rehn was an invisible third-stringer. As a junior, Rehn was Harris' floppy-haired backup, who threw for five touchdowns while mopping up Skyline's blowout wins.
As a 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior, Rehn is finally presented with the golden opportunity of quarterbacking the Spartans' fearsome passing attack, under the tutelage of Steve Gervais, who has coached five teams to state championships.
"Taking the reins after Jason, it's a big step for me," Rehn said. "It'll be fun to see what happens. It's my senior year, I just want to do my best."
During Wednesday's practice, a picture-perfect afternoon atop the Sammamish plateau, Rehn appeared to relish the new role:
He was one of four team captains leading drills. He encouraged his teammates after the end-of-the-practice 100-yard sprints. He sported a brown buzz cut and chin whiskers in place of last year's shoulder-length locks. His No. 13 jersey and green shorts were soaked with sweat. His spirals were tight and he showed a nice touch on several deep balls down the sideline. Eight months of training at the Air Attack quarterback camp in Portland seemed to help prepare him for his next step.
But how will he perform come game time?
Skyline, which returns just one starter, opens the season Sept. 1 in a titanic KingCo 3A matchup against Bellevue, winner of four of the past five Class 3A state titles. Skyline dropped a class this year.
Rehn is not as big or physical as Harris. Gervais counts as Rehn's strengths an "even-keeled temperament," a good work ethic and the expectation that he'll grow well into the required leadership role.
"I don't think that a coach could ask any more from somebody who's coming into their final season. He knows the opportunity's before him," Gervais said. "We're not asking him to be Jason Harris, we're asking him to be successful as a quarterback."
Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or email@example.com