It is called a huddle for the simple reason that players gather there. Not just one or two, but a whole team.
It is the reason the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears will be a tough opponent in the state playoffs.
“We talked about that at the end of practice yesterday,” Juneau-Douglas head coach Rich Sjoroos said. “About how great football is in the sense that not just one guy can take over. If you don’t have blocking, even the fastest player can’t dominate a game, a great receiver can’t succeed without throws from the quarterback and blocking from the linemen. Just a simple thing like kicking extra points needs good line blocking, a snap and a hold. There are so many needed components that a lot of other team sports don’t have. What I love about football is that the best team usually finds a way to come out on top.”
Juneau-Douglas is not just a strong defense that covers for an average offense and vice versa.
Beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, the Kenai Kardinals, a smash-mouth, Power I-type team from a conference of old-school, fundamentally sound coaches, will meet the Crimson Bears on Dimond High School’s Alumni Field.
Kenai boasts senior running back Jace Daniels, who set the single-game state rushing record in the first week of the season with 488 yards and seven touchdowns. Daniels had five touchdowns in the first half of last weekend’s 47-7 playoff win over Kodiak. Kardinals quarterback TJ Wagnor plays 30 pounds heavier than his frame and Chase Logan gets the run blocking started.
JDHS defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes, however, could have one of the most impressive units Adair Kennedy Field has held up.
“I think Kenai plays to our strengths,” Brakes said. “In our earlier games we have done well against the run and forced teams to pass against us.”
Senior Eric Nordgren has impressed at linebacker since opening day and continues to get better. He jumps passing routes and shuts down receivers, and still comes down hard to support the run defense.
“He begs for teams to run the ball,” Brakes said. “I think you will continue to hear his name a lot in football.”
Senior Demetrius Campos is a lock-down corner with excellent tackling ability.
Senior linebacker Derik Vance is the calming force on the D-line. An ankle injury has been healed and Vance is the team’s leader.
Senior George Sua is the team’s attacker at linebacker or can move to the line.
“He gets after it,” Brakes said. “He loves the physical part of the game.”
Senior JD Hudson is the team’s strongest all-around lineman, defensively and offensively. His “beef” (strength/weight), quickness and performance made him a runner-up for defensive player of the year, even while missing the first half of the season with an injury.
George Grummett has been the most consistent lineman. Away from the game a few years, Grummett has become a tower of strength up front. At 6-foot-2, 220-plus pounds, Grummett, kneeling alongside Hudson’s 220, causes havoc for opponents and makes life easy for their own linebackers.
Senior defensive ends/outside linebackers Dartanan Campos and Semisi Maake are two of the quickest and most athletic in the state. They shut the ball down outside and can recover on off-tackle plays and catch players from behind on dives, plus pressure the quarterbacks.
Senior cornerback Kris Hill uses his 6-foot-2 frame to blanket receivers and his 190 pounds can lay a smack on an opponent’s run.
Sophomore Hunter Hickok has earned a starting spot on the D-line and his youth will be served at the right tackle.
Junior cornerback Manase Maake is a finesse player with ankle-clinching tackles. Referred to as a “boa constrictor” on a tackle, Maake has the highest attempts on tackles for the team. Maake also kicks the extra points after touchdowns.
Senior Noah McVay can fill in on D-line, end or linebacker. Junior Adam Empson gets time at defensive back without a loss of production. Junior Brady Mallinger has started and brings that talent to the D-line or linebacker position.
“Obviously there are nerves and butterflies,” Brakes said. “This game is everything. It is about winning as a coach, but as I have gotten older I love these boys. You have a personal connection with each of the players and seeing the heart, soul and determination of their work. These seniors have never been in a championship game. Not a lot of players have that chance, in four years of high school, to make that game. I do not want to see tears of disappointment in their eyes.”
Kenai will target ball control and fundamentals and try to keep the ball out of the Crimson Bears hands with an effective running game. It will be hard to control time of possession, however, if you cannot move the ball.
Offensively, the Crimson Bears are multi-faceted.
They run a hybrid West Coast, Spread and Power mix that boasts two talented receivers in Hill and Empson, power with Nordgren and Sua, and Southeast’s Offensive Player Of The Year Demetrius Campos.
Adding to the mix is senior Jake Hamilton and potential power Stewart Conn, a freshman. Mallinger can find carries in the backfield as well.
“Kris and Adam are two of the better receivers in the state,” offensive coordinator Phil Isaak said. “They have the best hands, as good as it gets and Campos has big-time college speed.”
Each of the three has been compared to North Pole’s all-state standout Lance Wright, who caught three straight touchdown passes last weekend in the Patriots 55-6 playoff win over Ketchikan. Wright has committed to play at Rice University next season.
Campos is the game changer. He is a punt- or kickoff return threat as well and many teams have decided to give up yardage rather than give him the ball.
Quarterback Dorian Isaak has been a dual-threat and when healthy, is one of the top signal callers in the state. He has been compared to Service quarterback C.J. Toomer, who amassed 320 yards passing (3 TDs) and 57 rushing (1 TD) in the Cougars 55-34 playoff win over Chugiak last weekend.
The Crimson Bears’ offensive line features the senior experience of Hudson, Hickok and Derik Vance, and large body juniors Nick Tragis and Michael Anderson.
“The kids have been together since they were little,” Phil Isaak said. “They have chemistry. They all like each other and they are good athletes.”
Included in JDHS wins this season was the 26-20 win over the visiting Viewpoint from California. The Patriots are 6-1 on the season.
The Crimson Bears’ lone loss of the season was to visiting Tacoma, Washington large school competitor, the Foss High School Falcons 41-22.
“We do not hang our heads,” Phil Isaak said. “We come back. When our kids get in the huddle and a play is called, it is going to happen.”