It'd be easy to believe the Nikiski football team is in for the most spectacular post-title dismantlement since the Florida Marlins.
Gone are a whopping 22 seniors from the two-time defending small-schools state champions, including small-schools Offensive Player of the Year David Holloway, small-schools Defensive Player of the Year Josh Reilly and small-schools Co-Lineman of the Year Gabe Lavigueur.
Then came word that Scott Anderson, the head coach that built the program into a winner over his eight years, would be stepping down as head coach.
But rumors of Nikiski's demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
COLORS: Black and silver
2001 RECORD: 9-1 (4-0 in the GLC)
HEAD COACH: Lee Moore (first year)
ASSISTANTS: Scott Anderson, Jake Doth, Tim Johnson, Ward Romans, Lee Chadwick, Rufus Tallent.
CAPTAINS: Will rotate every week.
2002 VARSITY SCHEDULE
Aug. 10 at Houston 2 p.m.
Aug. 17 SKYVIEW 5 p.m.
Aug. 23 at Homer 5:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 at Soldotna 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 KENAI 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 SITKA 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at ACS 5 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Seward 2 p.m.
All home games in CAPS
The 22 seniors are gone, but Anderson has merely stepped down to become offensive coordinator. In Anderson's place in the head spot is Lee Moore, who had spent seven years as Anderson's defensive coordinator.
"Scott and I just flip-flopped positions," Moore said. "It's the same thing, basically."
And that's why coaches in the area refuse to write Nikiski off.
The departed seniors were primarily responsible for the small-schools state titles in 2000 and 2001. But it's easy to forget that the Nikiski program, under basically the same coaching staff it has this year, enjoyed plenty of success without some of those 22 seniors.
The Bulldogs were the Great Land Conference champs in 1997, 1998 and 1999. And keeping the coaching staff intact means players will be able to run the same systems they used at the junior varsity level.
"We are thrilled to death to have him out," Moore said of Anderson, who stepped down due to personal convictions. "He's proved himself one of the best coaches in the state.
Nikiski Junior Varsity
Freshmen: Zach Hemphill, Israel Blatchford, Justin Tumbaga, Jordan McCaughey, Josh Ball, J.R. Cox, Lance McCaughey, Chris Franklin, Justin Vance. Sophomores: Chris Curren, Zach McIrvin, Tyrone Landford, Jared Mazurek, Chad Holloway, Levi Lounsbury, Joe Keith, John Schwenke, Brandon Reid. Junior: Justin Weaver.
"It says a lot about him that he could step down from being the head coach of a state championship team to be an offensive coordinator at the same school. I don't know where else in the country you'd find that."
Nikiski assistant Ward Romans added that anyone who's spent time on the sideline during Anderson's tenure knows he was never a power-hungry coach, anyway. He was always willing to delegate plenty of control to assistants, and that should make the transition even smoother.
Now, as for the 22 seniors that are gone, that transition should present more of a problem.
"When you graduate 22 seniors, with the caliber of seniors we had, you don't expect to have very many varsity returners," said Moore, who has six seniors this year. "That's the case for us."
At the team picture, Moore asked returning varsity starters to raise their hands. The only one to shoot his hand skyward was senior lineman Corey Grimm. Senior lineman Chris Parrish also saw time on varsity last year, but he wasn't present for the team picture.
"It's awfully tough for these guys to step in and feel like all the pressure of past success is on their shoulders," Moore said. "But last year's team is not on the field. The guys that are here have this year to worry about.
"The goal we've had for every team is to simply get better every day. We're telling the team it doesn't have to worry about being defending state champions. The team just has to worry about getting better every day."
That may seem like a hard sell, but Moore pointed out that this group has seen that philosophy work in the past.
"It helps to have successful predecessors," Moore said. "They got to see firsthand what kind of effort it takes to achieve excellence."
On offense, the Bulldogs welcome back senior running back Josh Winters. As a sophomore, Winters rushed for 238 yards and six touchdowns. He didn't play last year, but is back this year.
"He would have been a starter last year," Moore said. "He brings a wealth of talent and real genuine enthusiasm to the team."
Joining Winters in the backfield will be sophomore quarterback Travis McGahan and junior running backs Billy Anderson, Zach Womack and Nick Russell.
Junior Louie Oliva will play tight end, while senior Kevin Gerke will put in time at receiver.
On the offensive line, seniors Chris Parrish and Grimm will be joined by juniors Josh Boye, Brett Allemann, Skyler Gallien, Jerimiah Hemphill and Luke Hardesty, and sophomore Reece Parrish.
On defense, Winters and Allemann will play inside linebacker, Anderson and Oliva will play outside linebacker and Womack will see time at both linebacker positions.
In the defensive backfield will be Russell, McGahan, Gerke, junior Joey Wicker and sophomore Jared Mazurek.
Finally, the defensive line will feature the same players used on the offensive line.
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