EVERETT — Ever since he was a kid, Tyler Tuiasosopo dreamed of being the head football coach at Mariner High School.
That dream is now a reality.
The 2008 Mariner alum is back at his alma mater and embarking on his first season as the Marauders’ head coach, looking to rebuild a program he twice led to the state playoffs as a quarterback.
“I’m really blessed to be in this position,” Tuiasosopo said after Wednesday’s season-opening practice. “I’ve dreamed of this position since I was in seventh grade.
“I vividly remember telling (longtime Mariner) coach John Ondriezek, ‘I want to be you.’ And so I literally am living my dream. I love it.”
Tuiasosopo is just the third Mariner head coach in the past 30 seasons. He follows in the footsteps of Ondriezek — who Tuiasosopo played under — and the recently retired Mark Stewart.
Ondriezek coached the Marauders from 1993 through 2014, guiding the program to five state playoff appearances during his 22 seasons at the helm.
Stewart took over as Mariner’s head coach in 2015 and led the program to the Class 4A state playoffs in 2016. He posted a 24-38 record in his seven seasons with the Marauders, capped by a 4-5 record last fall.
Stewart’s 36-year coaching career also included a success-filled run at Meadowdale, where he guided the Mavericks to seven state playoff trips in 13 seasons from 2000 through 2012.
“The guys who have been here have either been legendary coaches or they became legendary coaches when they were here,” Tuiasosopo said. “I was really thankful to both of those guys for a lot of the knowledge that they gave me and the things that we talk about. … I’m so indebted to those guys.”
Tuiasosopo, meanwhile, hails from one of the Seattle area’s most well-known football families.
His uncle, Manu, was an NFL defensive lineman who played five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. His cousin, Marques, was a University of Washington star quarterback who went on to play in the NFL. Another cousin, Zach, was a UW fullback. And his brother, Trenton, was a UW linebacker.
Keeping with the family tradition, Tuiasosopo was a talented football player himself.
As a standout quarterback at Mariner, Tuiasosopo led the Marauders to back-to-back 4A state playoff appearances in 2006 and 2007. After high school, he walked on as a quarterback at UCLA under coach Rick Neuheisel. He then transferred to Long Beach City College and finished his football career at Azusa Pacific University in the Los Angeles area.
All along, Tuiasosopo knew he eventually wanted to coach.
“Playing is great,” he said. “I found so much joy and fulfillment playing. But I just felt the connection of a coach. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After graduating from college, Tuiasosopo spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Glendora High in Southern California. He returned to Mariner the next year, coaching the 2015 season as an assistant under Stewart. He then headed to Las Vegas, where he was the offensive coordinator at Bonanza High for a season.
Tuiasosopo’s first head-coaching job came the following year, in 2017, at Western High in Las Vegas. He spent one season at Western, highlighted by a landmark win that snapped the program’s 43-game losing streak.
In 2019, Tuiasosopo began a three-year stint as head coach of a brand-new high school football program at Mater Academy East Las Vegas.
He then accepted his dream job at Mariner this past winter.
Tuiasosopo’s coaching staff at Mariner is a mix of new faces and holdovers from the Stewart era. Among the new coaches are three assistants who followed Tuiasosopo from Las Vegas to the Pacific Northwest.
“That’s not something that you hear a lot in high school sports,” Tuiasosopo said.
At Mariner, Tuiasosopo is tasked with turning around a program that’s had only one winning season in the past nine years. He said the process spans far beyond X’s and O’s.
“It’s just keeping that Mariner accountability and that Mariner pride and all of the standards that have been set forth — and then also let’s elevate it a little bit more,” Tuiasosopo said.
“A lot of people like to lay the foundation on the field first,” he added. “For us, it starts in the classroom. It starts off the field and taking care of all that kind of stuff first. … And (then) the winning will take care of itself.”
Tuiasosopo went the extra mile this spring — or in this case, thousands of miles — to start building that foundation.
While finishing up his teaching in Las Vegas, he traveled up to Everett once a month to get to know his players and help keep them accountable.
“Leadership (and) discipline,” Mariner senior Cartez Williams said when asked to describe Tuiasosopo. “He’s building us into men. … He’s a great man.”
Tuiasosopo said he’s proud of how players have responded to his high expectations.
“There have been growing pains,” he said. “There are some guys on this team that I’ve said, ‘You know what, I don’t know if you should play football here, because I don’t know if you can live up to the standard.’
“And they do it. They live up to it. … These guys have all answered the bell, and I’m excited to see what they can do on the field.”
Tuiasosopo, who has an offensive background as both a player and coach, said he’s not married to a particular offense. Instead, he said he’ll fit the offense to his personnel.
Tuiasosopo acknowledged Mariner will throw the ball more often than years past, estimating the play calling will be somewhere in the range of 40% run and 60% pass. He also said to expect a more fast-paced system.
“You’ll see us in a lot of different sets, a lot of different motions,” Tuiasosopo said. “It should be entertaining, to say the least.”
The Marauders open with four non-league games before entering the ultra-tough Wesco 4A slate. The five-team league includes reigning 4A state runner-up Lake Stevens, another potential 4A top-five team in Glacier Peak and a Kamiak team that’s coming off a breakthrough 7-2 campaign.
“We’ve gotta bring all that we have,” Williams said. “We’ve gotta bring it, because these teams, they’re ready.”
For Tuiasosopo, the process of trying to build a perennial contender has only just begun. But he’s optimistic about the direction his Marauders are headed.
“We really, really hope that we can turn this thing around a lot sooner than later,” he said.