A familiar face is taking over as head football coach at Rochester High School.
Former Rochester girls basketball coach AJ Easley was named the Warriors head football coach, Easley announced on Twitter Tuesday night.
Easley takes over for the departing John Moorhead, who’s been at the helm the past three years. Easley spent 11 years as the head girls basketball coach at Rochester from 2007 to 2018 and is a paraeducator in the transitions program at the high school.
“I’ve always wanted to be a head football coach,” Easley said. “We’re a big school but a small community.”
He is no stranger to football coaching. Easley has been the Warriors assistant football and baseball coach for nearly a decade, working under five head football coaches during that time. He was also Tenino’s assistant football for seven years, where he met his wife, Joey.
“When I met her she was like, ‘If we’re going to have a family, you can’t be a head football coach because you know how much time it takes,’” Easley said. “I was like, ‘Yep, I agree with you.’ So I became a head basketball coach. And I was OK with that.”
Now it’s Joey who was the driving force behind him applying and accepting the position. She felt it was the right time. Joey teaches at the elementary, AJ works at the high school and all three of their kids, Brody, 9, Adam, 8, and Colson, 2 are in the Rochester school system. Their three boys love football and Easley wants them to have a program growing up that they can be proud of.
It will be a tall task for Easley in turning around a program coming off a 2-7 overall record while going 0-5 in the 2A Evergreen Conference. The Warriors have finished at the bottom of the league standing for four consecutive seasons. They scored an average of 12.6 points per game during the 2019-20 season while allowing 45.6 points per game last year.
But Easley is taking this opportunity to be a positive change for the program and build relationships. Moorhead laid some groundwork for where the program needs to go, and the main area of focus for Easley now is recruiting players to a program that’s struggled to keep its numbers up. The past two seasons the Warriors have been hovering around 30 varsity players.
“I don’t know that we can survive long term in a 2A league with 30 kids when we play Tumwater and Chehalis,” Easley said. “Those guys have 80-100 kids and we’re rolling out 30.”
For comparison, when he was an assistant at Tenino, a Class 1A school, the Beavers had 45-50 varsity players in a typical year. There are more kids at Rochester that need to be playing, Easley said, and he and his 12 assistants have compiled a list of around 110 kids who are potential football players.
But recruiting those kids with everything that’s going on with the novel coronavirus has made it challenging. His goal is to have 70-75 kids on varsity every year, but not being able to have those face-to-face meetings with the kids is difficult, Easley said.
“How do we get there when we don’t see them every day?” Easley said. “We have to be a little bit outside-the-box thinkers of how we’re going to recruit kids when we don’t get to see them in the hallways. That’s really our first task as a coaching staff.”
Easley is trying to be creative with the approach of reaching the kids and getting them excited about football, whether it be via social media, contacts or mutual friends. One of the factors that is working in his favor right now is the kids have been isolated with the statewide stay-at-home order the past six weeks.
“All these kids haven’t had contact and they’re craving it, I think,” Easley said. “Now when they don’t get to see people everyday, I don’t think everyone understands how much they miss that.”
Easley is hoping that having a new head coach will also boost interest in football, and he predicts that with spring sports being canceled, the kids will be more willing to try out for football with it being the first sport of the upcoming school year.
In a typical year, football practices begin in June, the day after the final spring sports championship, whether that be baseball, softball or track. But Easley is expecting practices to be pushed back to August. He has a plan A, plan B and plan C for whenever practices do commence.
“We’re prepared for June 1, but if not we have a plan for every possible scenario,” Easley said.