There aren’t many places like Alaska, but three Soldotna High School football players recently signed letters of intent to play somewhere that is pretty close.
Noah Fowler, Zane Miller and Auston Tennis will play at The University of Montana Western, an NAIA school in Dillon, Mont.
According to the university’s website, Yellowstone, Glacier and Teton national parks are close to the university, as are premier hiking, biking, climbing, fishing and skiiing opportunities.
“They’re going to be spoiled down there,” Soldotna football coach Galen Brantley Jr. said.
And like Soldotna, the three players won’t be surrounded by a ton of people. Enrollment at the school is about 1,500, while about 4,200 people live in Dillon.
“I was interested in more of a smaller school so I could see how I liked college football,” Fowler said. “The coaches are in their second year starting a whole new program. They had success at another college.
“It seems like a great community. It’s a smaller town, so it’s more like here.”
Brantley Jr. also said he’s glad the three are headed out together. The coach played football in college, and he said he was fortunate to have friends from the Kenai Peninsula to help him out.
“It’s nice to have buddies to lean on when you are 3,000 miles from home,” Brantley Jr. said. “With all the spectrum of things that can happen in college, they will be fortunate to have each other there.”
The coach said the toughest time can be holidays, when pretty much everybody except for the Alaska kids get to take the quick trip home to see family.
“I remember going to Subway and eating a turkey sub on Thanksgiving by myself,” Brantley Jr. said.
The coach strives to send a few players out to college, and after not sending any after last season, he wants to start a trend.
So do the three players.
“Hopefully, we’ll go down there and show them what we can do being from Alaska,” Miller said. “People will see Alaska is not a state of little sports. We take it as serious as anybody.”
Brantley Jr. said he has had players go to the Frontier Conference before, but never to play for the Bulldogs. The Frontier Conference includes Carroll College, the six-time NAIA champions.
All of the SoHi players will get at least two-thirds of their tuition paid for.
“All three are very talented players who can do well at that level,” Brantley Jr. said. “It’s a matter of starting from the bottom as freshmen, getting busy in the weight room and taking care of business in class.”
Last season, Fowler, the son of Mark and DeeDee Fowler, quarterbacked the Stars to a medium-schools state title. He was named the medium-schools offensive player of the year, and was first team all-state at quarterback and defensive back.
He will play quarterback in college.
Fowler has not decided on a major, but is leaning toward something in business and finance.
“I’d like to thank my parents, grandparents and family for the support they’ve given me in sports and in my academic career,” Fowler said. “My coaches at SoHi have also supported me all the way.
“They’ve pushed me hard and that’s why I’m here.”
Miller, son of Brian and Carla Miller, was the defensive player of the year last season. He was first team all-state at linebacker in 2011 and 2012. He also was named a first team tight end after last season.
Miller said some schools were recruiting him as a tight end, but he was recruited as an inside linebacker for the Bulldogs.
The Soldotna senior is excited about his choice of major — environmental studies — because he said it is one of the best programs of its kind in the nation.
“Another reason I picked there is because it’s one of the best hunting areas in the whole world, and some of the best fishing, and that’s what I love to do,” Miller said.
Tennis took a year off from school after graduating from SoHi in 2012. In 2010, he was player of the game when SoHi won state. In 2011, he was the state defensive player of the year as well as first team at running back and defensive back.
“Chances are you never really stumble upon something like this after being out for a year,” Tennis said. “My football coach called me and asked me if maybe I wanted to play some football with two of my friends.
“It was my last chance, so it was an easy decision to make.”
Tennis, who thanked parents Ryan and Patricia Tennis for their support, will play safety for the Bulldogs. He has not chosen a major, mainly because this all happened so quickly.
“I thought it was just going to come down to working the rest of my life,” he said. “This is a good deal to go to college without burdening my family.”
Of the three, Tennis said he is the newest to hunting and fishing, but he said he wants to learn.
“Zane is into hunting,” Fowler said. “Me and him go hunting quite a bit. I’m sure Auston will be right there with us. He’ll get the hang of it.”