The parking lot at Nikiski Middle/High School is almost empty on a mid-August afternoon. Out on the football practice field, a small group of teenagers jogs about, running through drills and tossing footballs through the crisp air. Including water girls, little kids and coaches, there are nearly as many people out of uniform as in pads.
Head coach Ned Clooten has seen it before.
“That’s what small-schools football is all about,” a smiling Clooten said during a preseason practice with his small band of players.
With a varsity roster, not including those swinging up from junior varsity, likely to include roughly 16 total players, the Nikiski Bulldogs won’t overpower anyone with depth this season. But what they lack in numbers, Clooten said this year’s Bulldogs may make up for in bulk.
“We’ve got some real good size on the line of scrimmage,” he said.
Hulking tackles Jaramiah Hundley and Hunter Gallien will bookend an offensive and defensive line that Clooten said should be his team’s biggest strength. Clooten said Dustin Couch, Logan Denison and Elliott Tuttle will join Gallien and Hundley up front to form a formidable front line.
Dancing behind that line in Nikiski’s misdirection-heavy wing-T offense will be a trio of players that saw limited time on offense last year. Seniors Tyler Payment and Kenny Fagan will be the main running backs, while Corey Smith is expected to take most of the snaps.
All three likely will be counted on to step up in the absence of the departed Justin Tumbaga, who was second on the peninsula in rushing last season.
Clooten said he’s confident in his skill-position players, a group that also includes newcomer Jason Moore.
“We’ve got some really good talent stepping up,” he said.
Clooten said Eielson is the likely favorite in the Greatland Conference. After Eielson, however, he said the race could be wide-open for the conference’s second playoff bid.
“Houston’s tough, and Seward’s always scrappy, plus we have to play them there in the last game of the season,” he said. “I think the Greatland is going to be pretty open this year.”
With most of his players having to play on offense, defense and special teams, Clooten said a big key to his team’s success could be keeping players healthy.
“We’re extremely thin,” he said.
Clooten said he’s made a concerted effort in the preseason to work his team hard and has made conditioning a priority.
Nikiski will rotate captains again this season in an effort to encourage players to work hard in practice. He said the biggest key to Nikiski’s success this season won’t necessarily be his team’s physical skills, but its level of desire.
“We’ve got to go strong all the time,” he said. “If we do that we’ll be fine.”
COLORS: Black and silver
2005 REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 5-3 (5-1 in Greatland Conference)
HEAD COACH: Ned Clooten (fourth year)
ASSISTANTS: Scott Anderson, Lee Chadwick, Ted Riddall, Tim Johnson, Ward Romans, Bill Thompson, Dennis Leckwee
CAPTAINS: Will rotate each game
2006 VARSITY SCHEDULE
Aug. 18 at Homer 6 p.m.
Aug. 25 HOUSTON 6 p.m.
Sept. 2 EIELSON 2 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Delta Junction 1 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Soldotna 2 p.m.
Sept. 22 VALDEZ 6 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Seward 2 p.m.
Home games in CAPS
Nikiski Varsity Roster
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