HOCKINSON — When deciding to dig into the personality of Hockinson High School quarterback Canon Racanelli, we began with those who know him best as a player and person: the teammates.
Then it was the coaches’ turn. Head coach Rick Steele still recounts when and where a Hawks offensive lineman accidentally “sacked” a ninth-grade pencil-thin Racanelli in the quarterback’s varsity game debut. That was 121 touchdowns ago.
It’s the same kid who lay in tears on the turf in last year’s Week 10 loss not because of injury, but the competitive drive outweighed all else. Hockinson hasn’t lost since that night — Nov. 12, 2016.
Racanelli leads Hockinson (13-0) into Saturday’s Class 2A state championship game. The 10 a.m. kickoff against Tumwater is the school’s first state final in a team sport.
And when we asked Josh Racanelli, Hockinson’s offensive coordinator, what insight about his son he’d be willing to share, the elder Racanelli said, “there’s 5,000 things.”
We narrowed that down to 12 to correspond with Canon’s jersey number.
Here’s what we learned about the senior quarterback through interviews with teammates, coaches, family members, and opposing players.
1. What’s in a name? Quarterback is spelled C-A-N-O-N
No doubt about it, “we definitely planned on having football players” Josh Racanelli said. He and his wife, Sundee, have three children: sons Canon and Sawyer, and daughter, Celia.
And the name chosen for their first born — thinking creatively after Portland State offensive coordinator Bob Cole referred to Josh’s arm as a canon quarterbacking the Vikings in the 1990s — appropriately fits their son’s high school career. The 54 touchdown passes, a touchdown pass every 6.1 attempts, ranks sixth on Washington’s all-time single-season list.
2. Quarterbacks teaching quarterbacks
In 30 years of coaching football, including 13 as Hockinson’s head coach, Steele said he’s never had a quarterback with as much ability as No. 12. As confident as they come, yet a cool cat under the thickest of pressures. A scrambler. A playmaker. And don’t forget about that right arm for which he’s named.
“That kid can throw a football,” Steele said.
By kindergarten, Canon had three- and five-step drops down pat, but Josh Racanelli never pressured his sons to follow in his footsteps, nor have to question their commitment level.
The spread is virtually the only offense Canon’s ever known, learning the ropes from a dad who went from a football player to a quarterback under an up-and-coming college quarterbacks coach named Chris Petersen. Today, many of those same plays from Portland State’s system are used in Hockinson’s offense.
3. Football is life, but so is the outdoors
Yes, football is king, but there’s more to the senior than throwing a pigskin 60 yards. Get Canon to spill his go-to fishing spot? Good luck. He’s an avid outdoorsman, too.
“I wear a lot of camo,” he said.
In fact, teammate Colton Wheeler’s first memory of Canon dates back to when the two took a spotlight to go rabbit hunting. You name it, Canon likely hunted it: Deer, elk, duck, geese.
Said Wheeler: “Anything that moves.”
4. Younger brother, Sawyer, is the team’s leading receiver — and they still share a bedroom
Eight years and counting, the Rac Attack split a confined sleeping space in their family’s 3-bedroom home. It’s been that way since Canon was a fifth grader, Sawyer a third grader.
“It’s the worst, honestly,” Sawyer, 15, said. “Going to bed, and looking over and seeing him look right back at me.”
Winters, though, are the worst, according to Canon, because it brings out their differences for preferences on room temperature.
“I would rather sleep with one blanket and have the room be 100 degrees,” Canon said.
Said Sawyer: “I like the room cold with a slight breeze, and then one blanket.”
5. “Canon Racanelli is the best high school basketball player I’ve ever seen,” said no one ever (probably)
OK, so Canon isn’t known for highlight-reel plays in hoops. At 5-foot-11, he says he can dunk, and is known more for passing and as a defensive stopper. That’s good, since he’s completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,779 yards.
Peyton Brammer, who has nine touchdowns this season after a big freshman season in basketball last winter, describes Racanelli’s shooting form like the 2K basketball video game when you hold the “X” button on the controller too long.
“That’s his jump shot,” Brammer said.
6. Cousin vs. Cousin: pair of 13-0 QBs aim for titles
The Tacoma Dome crowd might be pretty rowdy for both Hockinson and Meridian on Saturday, specifically, the families of Canon and Sawyer Racanelli and Meridian quarterback Simon Burkett. That’s because the trio are second-cousins. Sundee Racanelli and Burkett’s mother, Heidi, are cousins.
Burkett, an Eastern Washington commit, led the Trojans to the Class 1A title game against Royal after beating La Center, 34-14, last week.
7. The 2A title game might be the biggest game to date, but this kid’s played in bigger venues
Technically, members of the Hockinson Hawks already are state champions.
Over three consecutive middle-school seasons, the North County Wildcats, featuring a handful of current Hawks including Racanelli, Matt Henry, Bailey Jones and Colton Wheeler, defeated teams from Oregon to win Pop Warner state titles as recently as eighth graders. Championship games were held at Pacific-12 Conference schools’ venues: Oregon State’s Reser Stadium and Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.
The Tacoma Dome might rank third on this list.
8. Add co-offensive coordinator to his title
Naturally, Steele says his quarterback knows the Hawks’ entire playbook, and knows it better than most of the coaching staff.
Did you know Canon calls close to 50 percent of the plays. And every once in a while, he will let the offensive line call a play?
During his personal-best 7-touchdown game against Pullman to open the 2A state playoffs, the Hawks’ opening play was a 75-yard touchdown pass to Henry called by … not a coach … but Canon.
In last Saturday’s semifinal win over West Valley, Canon changed the play five times before his 29-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He compares what goes on before the ball is snapped like playing chess.
“It’s super mental,” he said. “There’s a lot more things that go on through my head than people think.”
9. That arm, those legs: it’s like he’s Russell Wilson
Nothing ceases to amaze left guard Nathan Balderas anymore when watching the Hawks’ quarterback go to work. Whether it’s in the pocket or scrambling.
“He’ll sit there as long as he can to make a deep throw,” Balderas said. “If he can’t he’ll run with it, and that’s what I love about him.”
Same goes for opposing quarterbacks.
Wyatt Harsh, Woodland’s four-year starter, said his counterpart reminds him of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
“He’s not the biggest kid,” Harsh said, “but he makes plays with his feet and keeps plays alive.”
Once rivals turned friends, the duo has shared the 2A GSHL’s top quarterbacks spotlight in their high school tenure. And when Canon accounted for six of his team’s seven touchdowns in a 49-27 victory over Harsh’s Beavers to open league play in Week 3, Harsh gave a tip of the cap.
10. Injury (un)prone
In his high school career, never has Canon missed a game because of injury. In last year’s season-ending loss to Black Hills, he missed one play of one series because of mandatory concussion protocol.
But his perfect health dates back to when they were 5 years old, Henry said.
“This kid’s never had an injury that’s held him out of game,” the senior receiver said.
Even the memory of a pretzel-shaped Canon on the turf at Oregon’s State’s Reser Stadium still draws the awe of teammates in Pop Warner football. Playing safety, Canon was hit on the coverage, and landed bent over backward, head between his legs, as Henry and Wheeler describe in detail.
After assistance from the referee to his feet, “Canon cracks his neck and walks off,” Wheeler said.
11. Siskel and Ebert have nothing on Mr. Movie Buff
Today’s youth may not remember Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, America’s favorite movie critics who gave “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on newly released films, but the teen might have a future as a movie critic.
In one of the lighter moments at the Northwest 9 quarterbacks camp this past summer, an innocent discussion on a recent film turned into the Hockinson quarterback on center stage. Movie titles thrown out left and right, and Canon gave his review of it and a little ad-lib commentary, too.
It brought the house down, said Harsh, who joined Canon as one of the 30 quarterbacks at the invite-only event.
“Everyone was dying,” Harsh said.
12. State records now feature Racanellis
Entering Saturday’s 2A state final, Canon’s 54 passing touchdowns ranks sixth on Washington’s top-10 all-classification single-season touchdown list, and 121 career passing touchdowns rank eighth. Sawyer Racanelli’s 1,631 receiving yards ranks eighth for a single-season and 25 touchdowns rank fourth.