Nobody in small-schools football came close to beating Kenai Central this season. Thus, nobody in small-schools football did as well as the Kardinals in all-state voting announced by the Alaska Coaches Association Sunday.
The Kardinals, who won their fourth straight small-schools state crown on Oct. 15, took four of the five major awards. Papapa Nicholas was lineman of the year, Tyler Chappell was offensive player of the year, Dustin Stelljes was defensive player of the year and Jim Dawson was assistant coach of the year.
Eielson, which lost to the Kardinals in the state championship game, broke up Kenai's dominance a little when David DeVaughn was named coach of the year.
The Kardinals also had the most players on the offensive and defensive first teams. On offense, Kenai put five on the first team while Houston and Eielson each had three, Soldotna had two and Nikiski had one. On defense, four Kardinals made first team while Eielson and Soldotna had three apiece and Nikiski and Homer each had one.
Chappell, who was on the first team as a quarterback, passed for 603 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season while rushing for 374 yards and five touchdowns.
Kenai Central coach Jim Beeson, who just completed his 16th season at the helm of the Kardinals, said Chappell's versatility allowed the offense to be as balanced as it has been under his watch.
Chappell, a senior, did not receive an all-state mention last year but stepped up his play this year.
"It didn't surprise me at all," Beeson said. "He's very athletic, a competitor and has all the tools to be a successful quarterback."
One reason Beeson was not surprised by Chappell's success was Dawson had told Beeson when Chappell was a sophomore how good Chappell would be.
That points to a trust and a unique relationship among coaches that led to Dawson being the assistant coach of the year. Dawson was an assistant at Soldotna before working with Beeson at Kenai Central the past seven years.
"I hated it when I was coaching against him and I love coaching with him," Beeson said. "He's so good at what he does. It's not just about football, it's about teaching kids about life."
Beeson works with the offensive and defensive lines while Dawson works with the skill players on offense and the linebackers and secondary on defense. If it sounds like Dawson could just as easily be the head coach, that's because he could.
"To say either one of us is more in charge of anything is kind of a joke," Beeson said.
Beeson said both Dawson and he have different strengths and one of Beeson's is doing paperwork and talking to reporters. That, more than anything, is why Beeson is the head man.
Beeson did get the job done coaching the line this year, though. At the beginning of the season, opposing coaches talked about Kenai being the team to beat because of its line play. Those fears played out as the Kardinals had two of the five first-teamers on the offensive line and three of the four first-teamers at interior defensive line.
Nicholas led the way by getting first team nods at tackle, long snapper and interior line. Last year, he also was named first team at long snapper and interior line.
Beeson said that Nicholas, at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, has all the physical tools to be a great football player. This was the first year Nicholas played offense and defense, and Beeson said the trick was getting him to play hard every snap.
Beeson said Nicholas made defensive plans easy because there were no worries about the opponents rushing toward him. On offense, the Kardinals always knew they could gain yards behind him.
"Kids like him, with the physical tools he has, come along once every 10 years, if you're lucky," Beeson said.
Stelljes earned first-team honors at guard and interior line not because of physical tools but because of work ethic. Stelljes, who goes by the nickname Ogre, transferred to Kenai Central from Nikiski after his sophomore football season.
"He's just a kid who personifies if you work hard and do what you're told to do good things will happen," Beeson said. "He's not the biggest, strongest or fastest kid, but he has a nonstop motor. He plays football like it's supposed to be played."
Other Kardinals to make first-team offense were running back Brandon Miles, who rushed for 1,083 yards and 16 touchdowns during the regular season, and kicker Ju Kim, who booted 25 extra points during the regular season. Other Kardinals on first-team defense were interception machine Bill Chimphalee and interior lineman Clint Keener.
The Stars were represented on first-team offense by fullback Mike Reed, who rushed for 793 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season, and tight end Kory Wilbanks, who caught seven balls for 211 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season.
On defense, Wilbanks repeated as a first-team punter. Also honored were Kelly Seggerman at outside linebacker and Jake Howarth at inside linebacker.
Nikiski, which lost in the semifinals of the playoffs to Kenai, had Zech Hemphill make first-team offense as a utility player. Hemphill threw for 153 yards and rushed for 440 yards during the regular season. Justin Tumbaga, another Bulldog, made the first team on defense as an inside linebacker.
Homer, which finished second to Kenai in the Northern Lights Conference and lost to Eielson in the semifinals, had one first-team honoree. Justin Smith took the honor at cornerback.
Alaska Coaches Association Small Schools All-State Teams
Lineman of the year: Papapa Nicholas, Kenai Central.
Offensive player of the year: Tyler Chappell, Kenai Central.
Defensive player of the year: Dustin Stelljes, Kenai Central.
Coach of the year: David DeVaughn, Eielson.
Assistant coach of the year: Jim Dawson, Kenai Central.
Quarterback: Tyler Chappell, Kenai Central.
Fullback: Mike Reed, Soldotna.
Running back: Brandon Miles, Kenai Central; Nick Rogers, Eielson.
Wide receiver: David Montiel, Houston.
Tight end: Kory Wilbanks, Soldotna.
Center: Clinton Banzhof, Houston.
Guard: Chad Whaley, Eielson; Dustin Stelljes, Kenai Central.
Tackle: Papapa Nicholas, Kenai Central; Chris Minsch, Houston.
Kicker: Ju Kim, Kenai Central.
Long snapper: Papapa Nicholas, Kenai Central.
Utility player: Zech Hemphill, Nikiski.
Return specialist: Nick Scales, Eielson.
Punter: Kory Wilbanks, Soldotna.
Defensive backs: Justin Smith, Homer; Bill Chimphalee, Kenai Central; Nick Scales, Eielson.
Outside linebacker: Solomon Wright, Eielson; Kelly Seggerman, Soldotna.
Inside linebacker: Jake Howarth, Soldotna; Justin Tumbaga, Nikiski.
Interior linemen: Chad Whaley, Eielson; Papapa Nicholas, Kenai Central; Dustin Stelljes, Kenai Central; Clint Keener, Kenai Central.
Quarterback: Coty Beck, Seward.
Fullback: Brad Erickson, Houston.
Running back: Cam Hagen, Homer; Justin Tumbaga, Nikiski.
Wide receiver: Justin Smith, Homer.
Tight end: Donovan Parker, Houston.
Center: Nick Hann, Skyview.
Guard: Jeremy Grube, Houston; Austin Roberts, Soldotna.
Tackle: Erik Rasmussen, Homer; Keith Nederhoed, Eielson.
Kicker: Matt Broussard, Eielson.
Long snapper: Tyler Strickland, Houston.
Utility player: Marvin Tate, Soldotna.
Return specialist: Justin Smith, Homer.
Punter: Israel Blatchford, Nikiski.
Defensive backs: Gregor Bosick, Skyview; Travis Pew, Eielson; Israel Blatchford, Nikiski.
Outside linebacker: Nick Rogers, Eielson; Noah McWilliams, Homer.
Inside linebacker: Cam Hagen, Homer; Josh McDonald, Eielson.
Interior linemen: Keith Nederhoed, Eielson; Mike Anderson, Nikiski; Coty Beck, Seward, Kory Wilbanks, Soldotna.
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