The good news for the Skyview High School football program and head coach Wade Marcuson is that of the nine starters on offense from last year that graduated last spring, five have gone on to try out for college programs.
The hard part comes next -- Marcuson is looking at about 30 players to step up and fill some big shoes.
"I'm excited," Marcuson said. "Our JV program has been successful, and there's some pretty good looking kids coming up from that program. I'm excited to see what they can do at the varsity level.
COLORS: Purple, white and black
1999 RECORD: 4-4 (2-4 NLC)
HEAD COACH: Wade Marcuson (3rd year)
ASSISTANTS: Greg Zorbas, Rob Sparks, Phil Sheridan
CAPTAINS: Chris Rice, Stryder Reilly, Eli Evanson, Carey Johnson.
2000 VARSITY SCHEDULE
Aug. 12 at Palmer 3 p.m.
Aug. 18 SEWARD 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 SOLDOTNA 6 p.m.
Aug. 31 HOMER 6 p.m.
Skyview junior varsity football
Sept. 8 at Nikiski 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 15 KETCHIKAN 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Kenai 3 p.m.
Home games in CAPS
"The kids are going to have to prove to me that they can go out and play hard."
While losing nine starters might cause some coaches to worry, Marcuson said he sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic with his current Panthers.
"We're going to have to do some different things strategy-wise," Marcuson said, "but as far as kids go, I do have 30 on varsity, so I've got good depth."
Marcuson is expecting big things from co-captain Stryder Reilly, who lines up as a running back on offense and as a middle linebacker on defense.
Chris Rice, a transfer from Kenai, will hold down Skyview's defensive line and play some tight end with the offense, and Marcuson has been looking at junior Eli Evanson as the Panthers' starting quarterback.
Lineman Carey Johnson, a two-year starter on the Panthers' offensive and defensive lines, will join Reilly, Rice and Evanson for the coin tosses as Skyview's fourth co-captain.
Marcuson has made defense priority No. 1 during preseason training, hoping to improve on last season's performance, when the team scored 183 points but gave up 216.
Statistically, the Panthers were fourth in the Northern Lights Conference last season, but ended up fifth in the standings.
The Panthers have more than 70 players out on the practice field, a number Marcuson is happy to see.
"That's been one of my goals," Marcuson said. "Just get the kids out playing, and we'll find them a spot where they're going to fit in and they're going to be successful."
Skyview opened up its season with what is now a nonconference game at Palmer -- a good test for a young team.
The Panthers stuck right with the Moose and had a chance to drive and tie the game in the fourth quarter before losing 21-6.
"That'll give us a good indication of where we are," Marcuson said before the game.
Marcuson said he's been pleased with the attitude and effort so far.
"We've got a much better team attitude this year," Marcuson said. "On the varsity team we're going to have sophomores on our roster that are just as important as our seniors."
The key for Marcuson and the Panthers will be finding just the right spots for everybody.
"I think everybody's in the same boat," Marcuson said. "Everybody's got a handful of really good kids -- it's just a matter of how the other six or seven kids fit in on each side of the ball."
Skyview's schedule pits them against Kenai in the final game of the regular season, meaning that playoff spots might hinge on the contest.
"That's what it's all about," Marcuson said. "We need to make sure we get better every week."
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