Last year, the Homer football team missed its goal of a winning season by one point in the final minutes of their final game at Skyview.
But with several returning starters on offense and an improved line on both sides of the ball, spirits were high and loftier goals were being set at the beginning of the season.
“The players themselves are really pushing it,” said coach Kelly Blake. “In their mind, they want to go to the post-season. And (this year is) as good a chance as we’ve had in a while.”
Canyon McKinstry will return as quarterback, as will a stable of four varsity-caliber running backs including Cam-ron Hagen and Noah McWill-iams.
The line is bigger and deeper than a year ago, said Blake, and several promising linebackers and defensive backs will shore up a defense that played good in spurts last year.
“We have a lot of athletes,” Blake said.
About 40 kids took part in a football camp in Soldotna last month, and Blake said he was pleasantly surprised with what he saw there.
“They fared pretty well, on both sides of the ball,” Blake said. “The defense looked good in camp. They’re getting back to that aggressive, hard-hitting style that they lacked a bit last year.”
While most high school students are still working summer jobs, many on the football team have been working out, Blake said.
“These guys have been chomping at the bit,” Blake said. “About 75 percent came in (to practice) already in shape, which is pretty phenomenal. They’re real dedicated.”
To make their post-season goal, the Mariners will have to finish first or second in the Northern Lights Conference one of the toughest conferences in the state.
At the camp, players from Soldotna, Nikiski, Seward and Homer competed in drills and scrimmages, and Blake got a chance to see how the other teams stacked up.
“It should be a real competitive conference,” Blake said.
Conference champion Kenai looks tough again this year, and Kodiak and Skyview have improved, Blake said, leaving four or five teams that have a legitimate shot at making the post-season.
The varsity squad will suit up about 25 kids this year, more than Blake had last year.
Ben Stuart is a reporter for the Homer News.
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