It is only fitting that the man who coached one of the first Juneau Youth Football League Bears club teams at the high school level (1988 and ‘89), and helped bring the program to the officially-named Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears (1990), now is heading up a team that looked to be in turmoil over the summer.
Jeep Rice has been named head coach at Thunder Mountain.
“Right now we are in the weight room lifting weights,” Rice said.
In the background the sound of iron plates being tossed by Thunder Mountain Falcons’ players could be heard.
“We definitely have kids with heart here,” he said.
Rice applied for the position June 1, after seeing no local applicants take the reins. Former coach Bill Byouer resigned after being placed on administrative leave from his teaching position concerning a camp issue last year. That issue is still unresolved.
“I was worried the program was going to die,” Rice said. “I didn’t know who would apply. I was hoping there would be someone younger and smarter than me but it didn’t happen.”
With over 22 years of experience with Juneau football, Rice knows the game.
“Oh my gosh there have been a lot of changes over the years,” Rice said. “On and off the field. When we started back in the day we didn’t lift weights. Everything was less sophisticated and less intense. Now everything is ratcheted up a notch or two with weight lifting, with fundraising and in complexities.”
Rice was defensive coordinator for the Crimson Bears and coached current head coach Rich Sjoroos (‘87) and former assistant Eddie Brakes (89).
“What you get in Jeep is a guy who knows what it takes to run a football program in Juneau,” Sjoroos commented. “Period. Just all the dynamics of travel, fundraising, the logistics. Nothing will surprise him. And he has coached every position in the game. The Falcons had been making progress with Byouer and they will not miss a beat with Jeep. They will have a very good coach.”
Rice was involved when the JYFL was handing out uniforms and equipment out of the back of a pickup to four teams comprised of 10-13 year olds. That incorporation in 1978 included Judith Hall, Peggy LaMonica, Tom Sofo, Bill Allen, Terry Quinn and Guy Van Dorn. Senior league came in 1980 and open league in 1982. Games were hard to come by when the team reached high school because they were not in a conference.
“There was a lot of history in the JYFL and we certainly had good kids way back when,” Rice said. “Between playing in the rain and on the old dirt field, the kids really had a desire to play. But now, in terms of team strength across the board in every position, I think teams are stronger and faster than they used to be.”
Rice will have almost the entire Falcons varsity and junior varsity coaching staffs returning, one new coach from North Pole, and most of his eligible players from last season.
“You can never have too many coaches,” Rice said. “I think we will grow some players over the next week or two as well. We have a good team morale and team spirit and the kids are working hard.”
The Falcons will not be attending a camp south but will hold a camp in Juneau before the season’s first official practices.