Football season set to roll

Posted: Friday, August 08, 2003

The prep football season gets under way Saturday with all six Kenai Peninsula teams in action.

Skyview, under the direction of new coach Ty Salness, will host Seward at 2 p.m. At 3 p.m., defending small-schools champion Kenai Central will play host to West. Also at 3 p.m., Nikiski, with new head coach Ned Clooten, will travel to play Homer and new coach Kelly Blake at 3 p.m.

Finally, three-time defending Northern Lights Conference champion Soldotna will start its season on the road at North Pole at 4 p.m.

The following is a closer look at the games:

Kenai Central vs. West

The Kardinals are starting out their schedule against three teams -- the Eagles, Colony and Lathrop -- that played in the big-schools playoffs last year.

"I think it's good playing better competition, but I don't know about three in a row," said Jim Beeson, who begins his 15th year with the Kardinals. "It doesn't matter if we win or lose, we just have to get better and carry that into league competition."

West showed a great amount of improvement last year, winning two games. This year, over 80 athletes showed up for the program.

The Eagles' attack will be sparked by speedy returning running backs Montel Massenburg and Anthony Williams.

With small-schools offensive player of the year Cory Janson graduated, Beeson is planning on basing his attack on junior running back Dakota Craig, who rushed for 472 yards and seven touchdowns last season as the Kardinals won the first state football title in school history.

However, that transition will have to wait a week, because Craig will miss the first game of the season for disciplinary reasons.

That will but more of a burden on players like senior quarterback Cole Chappell, who came on for an injured Michael Tunseth to lead the Kards to two playoff victories last season, and senior TJ Hancock, who won small-schools utility player of the year honors last season.

Soldotna vs. North Pole

The Stars are coming off a season where they won their third straight conference title, but failed to get the school's first state football title in a 7-0 heartbreaking loss to Kenai.

Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell lost 28 seniors off that squad, and has just nine seniors back this year. However, he said he is confident in his team's ability to bounce back.

"We have enough tradition, and we've won enough games, that we don't feel we need to change anything," the coach said. "We don't feel like we underachieved last year."

Although the Stars lost a lot of experience, the team returns experience in key areas with senior all-conference quarterback Eric Simpson, senior fullback Todd Ghormley and junior running backs Garrett Gardner and Neil Gardner.

North Pole has some size up front with 310-pound offensive tackle Mike Hollett and 270-pound offensive tackle Jeff Conley. The Patriots also have returning running backs Marcus Grohman and Perry Monzulla.

However, North Pole has made more of a commitment to defense this year, moving Sean Ritchie, last year's leading rusher, to the other side of the ball.

"I don't know this team yet," Truesdell said. "Will they fold after a few touchdowns, or will they step up and play? We'll find out Saturday."

Skyview vs. Seward

The Panthers enter the season with just two returning starters in defensive back Brandon Cleveland and lineman Nick Pyfer, so first-year coach Salness will have an opportunity to see just how well players moving up from the JV ranks stack up.

The Panthers were 3-5 last season, but went winless in Northern Lights competition. The Seahawks were 4-4 a season ago, and with a 3-1 Great Land Conference record, clinched a spot in the playoffs by virtue of a regular-season finale win over Nikiski and a tiebreak.

Salness said his coaching staff had a chance to take a peak at the Seahawks at last weekend's scrimmages, but added that the Seahawks also got a look at his Panthers.

"We're hoping we'll be competitive with that bunch," Salness said.

Skyview will look to junior transfer Tyler Whirli to lead the offense.

Nikiski vs. Homer

Clooten is anxious to get his first game as head coach under his belt.

"I'll be nervous," Clooten said. "The butterflies will be flowing -- it's a lot of responsibility -- but I'm excited."

The Bulldogs were 3-5 last season and went 3-1 in Great Land Conference play. Nikiski just missed out on a playoff spot by virtue of a tiebreak.

Clooten will look to returning quarterback Travis McGahan to lead the offense and is expecting big things from returning tailback and linebacker Billy Anderson.

Skyler Gallien will fill a leadership role on the line for the Bulldogs while John Schwenke has shown versatility in the trenches.

The Mariners went 5-3 last season and finished third in the Northern Lights Conference. Homer will look to open holes for running backs -- Bryan Smith, Devion Hagen and Jason West.

-- with an offensive line that features good size and quick feet.

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