The cycle continues for the All Alaska Football Camp, Valley City State University in North Dakota and Soldotna High School football coaches Sarge Truesdell, Galen Brantley and Jeff Baker.
Truesdell, Brantley and Baker all attended the All Alaska Football Camp as players during its first year in 1992. The 14th edition of the camp was held from June 19 through 22 this year at Colony High School.
By 1994, Truesdell, Brantley and Baker were playing football at VSCU. Dennis McCulloch, who was then the defensive coordinator for the Vikings and now is the head coach, saw so much talent in the Alaskans that he decided to start attending the All Alaska Football Camp as a coach in 1995.
Two years ago, Truesdell, Brantley and Baker went full circle when they started bringing the Stars to the All Alaska Football Camp. This year the trio brought 24 players back again.
Baker's brother Leslie is a sophomore at Soldotna and he attended the camp this year.
"It's almost like the cycle is starting over again," said Baker, who along with Truesdell is a Skyview High School graduate. "We started in Soldotna and went to college, and football helped us pay for school.
"Now we're using what they taught us, and hoping to groom players for them. It's a neat cycle."
The cycle started when Truesdell, Brantley and Baker attended their first All Alaska Football camp, but the cycle did not immediately include VCSU.
VCSU started to get pulled into the mix in 1993, when Mikah Boudreaux, the son of former Soldotna football coach Bob Boudreaux, went to play football for the Vikings.
Bob Boudreaux had a good read on the top football talent on the peninsula. He started alerting VCSU about the area's top talent, like Truesdell.
"Valley City ended up calling me and giving me the best deal, all based on what Bob said," Truesdell said. "He did the same for Galen. Jeff Baker saw that ball rolling."
A group of Alaskans suddenly had VCSU hungry for more. Boudreaux started three years at quarterback, Baker and Brantley, a Soldotna graduate, started three years on the line, Truesdell started three years in the secondary, Kenai Central graduate Ryan Magee started four years at linebacker and Skyview graduate Matthew Streiff played kicker and rotated plays as a receiver.
All of those starters played a role in the team's conference title and run to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics playoffs in 1996. Truesdell was an NAIA All-American in 1996, while Streiff, Magee and Boudreaux all were NAIA Scholar-Athletes during the course of their careers.
"All six of us had a chance to contribute," said Brantley, who worked as an All Alaska Football Camp counselor from 1995 through 1997. "We were there before they really started recruiting Alaska, so we fell in their lap. It's something they've continued to do."
McCulloch, who became head coach in 1997, made it a point to make recruiting in Alaska vital to his program. He said nine schools play college football in North Dakota, even though the state has a population of just 634,000. Alaska's population is 650,000.
"When most colleges start recruiting an area, they obviously want a chance to go out and watch and physically see the players," McCulloch said. "Because of the distance involved with Alaska, it is harder to recruit.
"It's underrecruited for that reason."
McCulloch said that if the state has a Division I prospect, Division I programs can get to Alaska to watch the prospect. But Division II and NAIA schools don't have that luxury.
That's where the All Alaska Football Camp comes in. There were 320 football players at this year's camp, with 20 coaches from from 14 different colleges and universities around the country.
"There's 20-some odd coaches every year licking their chops over kids at this camp," Baker said. "If it wasn't for this camp, they'd never be seen. Who's going to come on a recruiting trip to Alaska?"
These coaches get a chance to see Alaska's football players up close, while Alaska's football players and coaches get a chance to learn from the camp coaches.
"What excites me most is one of the best camps in the country is happening in our back yard," Truesdell said. "I know the quality of all those coaches they brought up."
This year, the camp brought in two coaches from Olivet College in Michigan because Soldotna wants to run that school's offense this season. Truesdell said his coach and players learned a lot working with the Olivet coaches for four days.
The college coaches benefit by getting a look at players. VCSU currently has 15 Alaska players on its roster, including former peninsula players Jonathan Anderson, Caleb Sizemore and Josh Brantley.
Nine of the Vikings' 46 recruits for next year are from Alaska, including peninsula players Raymond Ledet, Travis McGahan, David Holloway, Dakota Craig and Cameron Schneider.
"What I love is this is a chance to get up and see those guys," said McCulloch, who also coached Nikiski coach Ned Clooten at VCSU, though Clooten is not originally from Alaska. "Otherwise, the distance would keep me from seeing them.
"It's a rewarding experience to have those guys around and see how much they've matured and how they handle their teams now."
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