A strong group of seniors and one of the biggest lines in the Northern Lights Conference has Mariners football coaches excited about the upcoming season.
Getting back to the playoffs is one of the biggest goals for the team, said Homer coach Kelly Blake.
“Everyone came in ready to go,” he said. “They have a goal in mind and they’re already striving to get there. They want to get back to the playoffs.”
The Mariners lost a handful of starting seniors such as wide receiver Justin Smith and quarterback Canyon McKinstry from last year’s team. And while they combined for a large chunk of the offense last year, coaches are more impressed with who is returning.
“We have 16 returning seniors,” said assistant coach Camron Wyatt. “These kids have played together for seven or eight years.”
This senior class also is the first big group of players that began their careers in Pop Warner Junior League Football.
The entire starting offensive line returns and the smallest of the bunch center Steve Kohout is 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. Mike Fielding, Erik Rasmussen, Jake Jimenez and Andrew Campbell round out the group that averages nearly 290 pounds.
Peering over that massive line this season will be quarterback Taylor Layland, a 6-3, 180-pounder with an arm.
“The Mariners never had a QB over 6-foot,” Wyatt said.
Layland is a step slower than the speedy McKinstry of a year ago, but he can see over the linemen better, which could open up the passing game, Wyatt said.
On running plays, Layland will hand off to 6-2, 225-pound Noah McWilliams at fullback, and Ethan Parker, a smart runner who uses his blocks well, Wyatt said.
The Mariners receivers lost some speed with the graduation of Smith, but Colen Hagen and David So both have good hands and the ability to catch the ball in the middle of the field.
On defense, the Mariners plan on shifting to a defense with five down linemen and two linebackers this year. The idea is to stop the run and get the most out of the bulk up front, Wyatt said.
All of the Mariners games this year are against small-schools opponents, but to do this the team will have to travel more than usual.
The team will travel to Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Seward and Kodiak this season with home games against Nikiski, Soldotna, Kenai and Skyview.
Ben Stuart can be reached at email@example.com.
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