Hit a person in just the right spot on the knee, and their leg will straighten. Drip water in an eye, and it'll blink. Ask a Great Land Conference coach who the 2001 champion will be, and they'll say Nikiski.
"Nikiski is by far the favorite this year," Seward coach Dan Bohrnsen said. "That's true for the Northern Lights Conference as well as the Great Land.
"Scott Anderson just does a great job with that program."
The Bulldogs have had a monopoly on the Great Land Conference championship since the league's origin in 1997. Last year, Nikiski also won the first small-schools state championship sanctioned by the Alaska School Activities Association. The Bulldogs return 22 of the 25 players from their 2000 squad this year.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Skyview's Ron Winger pulls down Soldotna's Houston Morris during a game last fall.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"Nikiski will be a team everybody shoots for," ACS coach Pete Carroll said. "They built themselves a tradition, and they have good coaches that do a good job with the kids.
"They're enthusiastic and they have an off-season weight program. They do the things you need to have success."
If the GLC coaches are right, Nikiski is a lock for one of the two playoff spots in the five-team Great Land. The next obvious question -- Who gets playoff spot No. 2? -- is one for which the coaches have no answer.
Seward took its lumps last year, finishing fourth in the league with a 1-3 record. Coach Dan Bohrnsen was expecting to come back strong this year, but 11 players he expected to have on the field did not show up for the first week of practice.
Houston finished 3-1 in the conference last year and earned the second playoff spot, losing to Soldotna in the small-schools state playoff semifinals 20-13.
The Hawks return plenty of star power from that team, including senior Travis Webb, a fullback and linebacker who was the conference's defensive player of the year last year.
Returning with Webb are quarterback Pete Clemens, wide receiver Shaun Haragan, lineman Russell Shurtleff, lineman Roland Tresham and linebacker Mike Barrett.
The one question the Hawks have is depth after only 25 players showed up for the first week of practice.
Sitka made an impressive debut in the Great Land last year after making the jump from being a club program.
Scott McAdams takes over at head coach for the Wolves this year and is greeted by a number of players eager to improve on last year's 2-2 record and third-place finish in the conference.
The coach said his top three players are junior lineman Mike Loucks, senior wide receiver and cornerback Elgin Hollins and senior fullback and linebacker Dan Stockell. Loucks, who goes 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, was first-team all-conference on the defensive line last year.
All told, the Wolves have 23 players on varsity, seven of those being seniors.
"There are a few things we face that put us at a competitive disadvantage," McAdams said. "No. 1 is the distance. No. 2 is we're an out-serviced sport, so we have to do all the fund-raising by ourselves."
Anchorage Christian Schools didn't enjoy the success that Sitka did last year in its first year in the Great Land.
The Lions finished 0-4 in the league.
"Last year was, of course, a pretty big growth experience for the kids," Carroll said. "At this point last year the team was learning how to play football -- the fundamentals, technique and basically how to put pads on.
"This year, the basics are behind us."
Carroll sees plenty of opportunity to start moving up the Great Land standings this year. The Lions have 33 players on their team, but just five are seniors.
"Most of our promising players are freshmen, sophomores and a few juniors," Carroll said.
Junior Todd Alden will play quarterback and hand the ball off to junior Kenny Lemieux, freshman Bobby Dunbar and senior Dan McCarty.
While ACS did fine on offense last year, its major problem came on run defense, where opposing backs were anything but thrown to the Lions.
Carroll is hoping to rectify that problem with senior defensive tackle Corban Caudle, senior defensive end Victor Mota, junior defensive end Jim Nash, sophomore inside linebacker Alex Hawkins, outside linebacker Dunbar and safeties Danny Cooper, a senior, and Jonathan Butler, a freshman.
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