From all initial appearances, the Seward High School Seahawks, last year's Great Land Conference runners-up, could have to deal with a reversal of fortune this season, as 17 members of the 2001 squad have graduated.
"We are in peril," said new head coach Cliff Draper, who takes over for 2001 small-schools Coach of the Year Dan Bohrnsen. "We don't have a whole lot of depth or a lot of experience. In every way, shape or form, we're young."
With only 10 upperclassmen -- six of them seniors -- Draper said he plans to do the best he can with what he has available to him. And the team will field barely more than 30 players for its first game against Soldotna High School.
"We have Jonah Swiderski," Draper said. "He was our fullback. Now he's quarterback, and I'm glad he's back."
Senior Doug Jones, an interior lineman, senior lineman Neil Logan, senior offensive and defensive end Brian Svabik and sophomore lineman Ray Ledet join Swiderski as the team's only returning players. Draper said Svabik will miss the first several games due to injury.
"He has bruised ribs," Draper said. "He'll probably be ready by the time we start our conference games in about three weeks."
The Seward football program is only seven years old, and Draper said the talent pool for the community is growing, but not enough to fill the high school's roster.
"Percentage wise, we're probably getting 20 to 25 percent of our boys out for football," he said. "As far as them being pure athletes, they work hard and learn well, but they're just not gifted."
He hinted that his transition to head coach might also contribute to some shaky ground early on in the season.
"I've been with program since it started, but I haven't been head coach," Draper said.
He said keeping everyone healthy on the team will be his biggest challenge.
"We don't have any substitutes," he said. "Our kids play both sides of the ball.
"I want to keep them growing and learning. We'll do little bits at a time, and week by week try to keep improving. We went up to scrimmage in Anchorage Football Stadium and we're very encouraged about that."
Although last year's success is not yet a swiftly fading memory, Draper said the 2001 record is a long way off for the Seahawks this year. But he said he is still hopeful.
"Once every 10 years we can compete with bigger schools," Draper said. "But we can't compete every year like we did last year. If we can make it to the playoffs in our division, it'll be a successful season."
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