'If we improve along the way, the winning will take care of itself. I think that takes the pressure off the players. They know the only expectations we have of them is that they work to get better in practice every day.'
Talk to Nikiski coach Scott Anderson about strategy for upcoming games or seasons for a few years, and what you'll hear will sound like a scratched CD.
"We're focusing on ourselves and getting better. We haven't even mentioned (insert opponent here) in practice this week. We're focusing on ourselves ..."
You get the idea.
But look at the Bulldogs accomplishments over the past couple of years, and again you'll start to get that broken-record feel.
Great Land Conference champions in 1997. Great Land Conference champions in 1998. Great Land Conference Champ-ions in 1999. Great Land Confer-ence and small-schools state champions in 2000.
It's apparent Anderson, who's entering his eighth season at Nikiski, has hit upon the right message. With 22 of the 25 players on varsity returning this year from last year's undefeated unit, Nikiski is the team other coaches reflexively mention when asked for the favorite in the race for the small-schools football title.
Nikiski junior varsity football team. Freshmen: Travis McGahan, Jared Mazurek, Brandon Reed, Travis McCaughey, Reece Parrish, Levi Lounsbury, Steve Whitaker, Darren Sanger, Joe Keith, John Schwenke, Chad Holloway. Sophomores: Tab Key, Zack Womack, Billy Anderson, Brett Alleman, William Haynes, Chase Nelson, Jabin Flensburg, Matt Davis, Robert Sterling, Josh Boye, Ryan Cowie, Wes Little, Jeremiah Hemphill, Arleigh Bacarella, Skyler Gallien, Luke Hardesty, Louie Oliva, Nick Russell. Junior: Alex Robinson.
Anderson, however, isn't ready to jump that far ahead yet.
"There's a saying I like -- 'The goal isn't the end of the road, it's the road along the way,'" said the coach, who has 54 players out for his program this year. "If we improve along the way, the winning will take care of itself.
"I think that takes the pressure off the players. They know the only expectations we have of them is that they work to get better in practice every day."
Last year, the Bulldogs did more than just sound like broken records. They actually broke records.
David Holloway, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, made history when he had 45 catches for 1,002 yards in nine games. It was the first time a receiver in the state had gone over 1,000 yards. Holloway's 45 receptions also tied him for a team record for catches, which was set by James Arness in 1997.
With 6-1, 180-pound senior quarterback Josh Reilly returning to deliver him the ball, Holloway could be in store for a big year again in 2001. Reilly led the GLC with 1,058 yards passing in seven regular-season games last year. He was 53-of-100 with 12 touchdowns, while also rushing for 238 yards.
Of course, if defenses rotate around to stop the Holloway-Reilly connection, Nikiski will be perfectly content to eat up opponents on the ground.
"Teams are going to have to play us straight up," said Anderson, whose team led the conference in offense last year by passing for 1,127 yards and rushing for 1,571. "If we see teams are keying on a certain area, we're talented enough that we can take advantage of that."
Senior running backs Steve Calderwood, Ryan Crumpacker and Kyle Alexander join Reilly to give Nikiski its entire 2000 backfield back. Alexander and Reilly were all-conference last year.
Tight end Zach Hall returns for the Bulldogs on the line, as do senior linemen Gabe Lavigueur, Chris Overhuls and Chris Pepper. Lavigueur was the conference's lineman of the year last year, while Overhuls also was all-conference.
The Bulldogs did lose two off their offensive line, but Anderson believes he has two pretty good plug-ins for the losses.
Nikiski had six all-conference players on defense last year, and all of them return to lead the defense this year. The returnees are Holloway and senior Jason Gerke at cornerback, Calderwood at punter, Alexander at outside linebacker, Lavigueur on the line and Reilly at inside linebacker.
Also returning for the defense are senior inside linebacker Neil Fucci and outside linebacker Hall. Junior Angelo Luna, at 6-1, 270, should be a load to deal with on the line, while senior Nigel Penhale also will see time in the defensive trenches.
As if all of that isn't enough, Nikiski's familiarity with the defensive and offensive system also allows them to spend time on special teams, which is often an afterthought at the high school level. All-conference senior kicker Chuck Seater returns to head up that unit.
"I was kind of worried the kids might come in overconfident, but they're working harder than last year," Anderson said. "I think they know from the last couple of years that if they work hard in practice, good things will happen."
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