When Numi Ilalio Jr. first saw the outside linebacker, the high school football coach had one thought.
"I said, 'Man, he could play at the next level,'" said Ilalio Jr., the offensive and defensive coordinator for the Service High School football team.
'He' is Kenai Central High School's Kyle Rogers, a senior whose talents caught the eye of Ilalio Jr. when Service and Kenai Central met in the second game of the 2010 season. So much so, in fact, that Ilalio Jr. extended a unique invitation to Rogers.
Rogers, 18, traveled to Auburn, Wash., over winter break to compete in the Tanoa Bowl as a member of the first Alaska All-State Football Team, coached by Ilalio Jr. He was the lone peninsula athlete to be invited, and he was the only small-schools player on the squad.
"To be a part of it in its first year, it was awesome," Rogers said. "For any up-and-coming player, it's a great experience."
Made up of 29 players, Team Alaska faced Team Washington on New Year's Day before scouts and coaches from Division I, II and III universities as well as community colleges. Washington won 28-14.
Alaska's unit was formed by the Alaska Athletic Alliance, a nonprofit aimed at promoting Alaska's high school talent on a national stage in hopes of helping student-athletes land college scholarships. The Alaska Athletic Alliance also educates parents and students on the recruiting process.
Ilalio Jr. said the organization hopes to form an all-state team, and travel to Washington, annually.
"We decided we wanted to put together an organization that had a team," said Ilalio Jr., the president. "Perhaps to emulate how soccer and baseball and basketball teams travel down south and compete and get exposure for the next level."
Since Alaska's high school football season begins in August, earlier than many states, the season is over well before the college recruiting period ends.
Aug. 1 to Nov. 27 is a quiet period for recruiting, but within that span, there are 42 "evaluation" days, allowing recruiters to visit student-athletes off campus, according to collegefootball.com. Recruiting intensifies between Nov. 28 and Jan. 29 for the "contact" period, according to the website, though there are intermittent dead periods during which in-person contact is prohibited.
Ilalio Jr. believes that timing, coupled with geography, makes it easy for players from Alaska to get overlooked when they shouldn't.
"It's been tough to watch kids from Alaska get recruited to the next level," he said.
His team lost in Washington, but Rogers made five tackles -- two for a loss -- and had what Ilalio Jr. considered one of the best outings of any athlete on the field, backing up at tight end in addition to playing outside linebacker.
By joining the team, Ilalio Jr. said, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Rogers was able to showcase his skills before scouts and coaches who otherwise may have never seen him play in person.
"He's an animal on the field," Ilalio Jr. said.
Although he has yet to make a college commitment since the game, Rogers said he's been contacted by Western Oregon University as well as Central Washington University, which last season finished 8-3 and won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship for the sixth time in eight years.
Western Oregon and Central Washington are both Division II schools.
Rogers isn't sure what he'd like to study, but he knows he wants to play football.
"I just love the college atmosphere," Rogers said. "You line up against another guy and you're not automatically the biggest or best player. Everybody is pretty even."
Rogers' high school coach, Jeff Baker, believes the linebacker is good enough to play in college.
Baker said Rogers is the most physically gifted athlete he's seen in three years at Kenai Central and also works harder than most players.
"It's impossible to miss a guy like Kyle on the football field," said Baker, whose Kardinals lost to Soldotna in the 2010 small-schools state championship. "He's just a really big kid."
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