There will be something new emerging from Adair Kennedy Field this season as the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears’ enjoy head coach Rich Sjoroos’ 20th season as a coach in the Crimson Bears’ and Juneau Youth Football League programs.
And it is not the new turf field.
“You are going to see a group of kids, the senior class, that have been playing together for as long as any senior class we have had,” Sjoroos said. “That is a special thing. This group has really stuck together to the end.”
For two seasons in a row the Crimson Bears have knocked at the door of the state championship house, but were turned away in semifinal clashes.
Ranked fifth in this season’s first Alaska state broadcasters and media poll, the Crimson Bears, coming off an 8-2 season, have lost many top football names, yet leave a number of athletes.
“We have a lot of enthusiasm,” Sjoroos said. “They know this is their last time playing football together in high school. They are a collection of athletic kids that know the game really well and they learn really quickly. They could very well surpass the teams we have had in the past, it just may take a little longer to get there.”
In 2010 the Crimson Bears dominated the state semifinal game against West, then lost 21-18. In 2011 they played a bad half of football against a really good team according to Sjoroos and lost 64-21.
“We needed to play our best game to hang with those guys and we didn’t and that was unusual for us,” Sjoroos said. “The guys that are coming back are looking to get out on the field and erase some of those memories of the last time we played.”
JDHS returns one of the top Railbelt quarterbacks in Phillip Fenumiai and some capable receiving hands over the middle in Gary Speck (6-foot-4, 245-pounds) and Stefan Jones (5-foot-11, 226); and some speed on the outside in Billy Palmer, Kris Hill, and Aquino Brinson. JV quarterback Dorian Isaak will step in at the varsity level on occasion, which can move Fenumiai to a halfback position (not a bad position as Fenumiai has career leading total yardage).
Demetrius Campos and Trey Williams will share running back duties while senior Trevor Pfaff and George Sua will pound the line at fullback.
Pfaff is noted for his role in filling in at quarterback to defeat East last season in his first game back after knee surgery. It was his first varsity quarterback play.
JDHS lost a lot of beef from the offensive line and will move four new bodies along the front: Kristian Petaja at center, and guards JD Hudson, Jason Nguyen and Hunter Hickok. Derik Vance and Travis Duvernay, the only returning starting lineman, will be at tackle.
Senior soccer and baseball player Jackson Lehnart will be kicking on special teams.
According to Sjoroos, the defense will be aggressive. Led by Speck and Jones and run-stopper Charles Creekpaum (6-foot-four, 320). The patented Crimson Bears linebacking will have new comers Eric Nordgren and Dartanan Campos joining Pfaff, Sua and Vance. The secondary will rely on returners Samson Nauer and Brassfield, while Fenumiai, Demetrious Campos and John McDonald providing coverage.
“Many of our players are two-way guys,” Sjoroos said. “When you don’t have a ton of kids you need guys like Pfaff, or some of our other utility guys that can jump right in and play anywhere.”
Sjoroos stated that this team has a special group of linemen as well, even with defensive player of the year Lah Fafita and offensive nose guard Bubble Enele.
“They will absolutely sacrifice their bodies to help the running backs, receivers and quarterbacks have success. That is what we are asking of these guys and not a single one of them won’t give that.”
The Crimson Bears are noted throughout the state as players that, although often undersized or outnumbered when compared to East Anchorage or Service, never back down physically.
“Our kids are always very coachable,” Sjoroos said.
The football talent throughout the state of Alaska this season has been called the best ever. Cook Inlet Conference will be even stronger than last season’s state tournament players Service., South, East and West. Thirteen of the 15 large school teams have senior quarterbacks. The Railbelt Conference will return the best class of quarterbacks in many years: Fenumiai threw for over 1,500 yards, Lathrop’s Gabe Cunningham threw for over 1,800, Wasilla’s Ben Fielder threw over 1,400, North Pole’s Moo Rogers threw AND ran for over 1,000.
The Crimson Bears host Wasilla, North Pole and Lathrop.
“Our fans are going to be treated to three pretty awesome quarterbacks coming to town,” Sjoroos said. “Hats off to the top four teams that make the playoffs. It is going to be one of those deals where you won’t know until the final week of the season who is going and who is not.”