Ready for some football?
According to Homer head football coach Kelly Blake, the Homer players have been ready for months.
"These kids have been fired up all fall, winter and spring," Blake said. "They're very excited to get things rolling."
The Mariners completed their first week of conditioning practice, affectionately known as "hell week," and Blake was pleased with the results.
"This has been the best off-season," Blake said. "Conditioning was not an issue. The kids came in good shape and ready to go."
Blake said 11 seniors returned to this year's squad, giving him the best leadership group he has had during his five years as the team's coach. This is the second year Blake has been head coach.
Jason West will return at running back this year. West was the seventh-leading rusher on the peninsula last year, rushing 72 times for 336 yards. That effort was good enough to make him second team all-Northern Lights Conference at halfback.
Junior Canyon McKinstry will start at quarterback. McKinstry was 21 of 53 for 308 yards in 2003. His big problem was interceptions. He threw 11 while throwing just two touchdowns.
With more experience in the backfield, and a strong group of receivers at the wings, Blake said he intends to expand the playbook this season.
"We're going to try to open it up," he said. "We've got the personnel to do that."
Blake said his defense also looks solid, with a good group of linebackers and a complete secondary unit returning from last year.
The group should be led by a pair of players that were first team all-Northern Lights Conference in 2003 as sophomores. Justin Smith took the honor as a defensive back, while Cam Hagen was honored at interior lineman.
"Homer's got a bunch of big kids that hit hard, just like they always do," said Nikiski coach Ned Clooten after observing the Mariners at a camp this summer and an early season jamboree.
Blake said he is also spending more time working with special teams this year.
"We have a coach specifically for special teams this year," he said. "We see it as a way to score points, get better field position during games. We're looking for big-play potential."
This year's squad may have to rely on big plays in order to improve on last season's 3-5 record, as it lacks size at most positions.
Homer's size deficit should be most apparent during its first home game, Aug. 27 against powerhouse North Pole.
Blake hopes experience, conditioning and heart will make up for size.
"They're just a bunch of little guys with big attitudes," he said.
The Mariners finished 1-3 in the Northern Lights Conference last year, but coaches around the league have already started to take note of the Mariners this year.
"Homer has an excellent, small group," Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell said. "They have 15 to 17 kids that are as good as anybody else."
Skyview coach Phil Sheridan also thinks Homer's program is on its way up.
"I think Soldotna, Kenai and Homer can play with anybody in the state," Sheridan said.
Ben Stuart is a reporter at the Homer News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak also contributed to this story.
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