The Juneau-Douglas High School football team will host a squad from Washington State in September - a high-caliber team that has drawn attention for its skills on the field and for its staff on the sidelines.
Crimson Bear head coach Reilly Richey said Wednesday that Rainier Beach High School of Seattle has agreed to travel to Juneau for a game on Saturday, Sept. 11, at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Rainier Beach will be the first out-of-state football opponent for Juneau in eight years.
The Vikings - like the Crimson Bears - are expected to contend for a state title next season, and have sent a number of players to NCAA Division I college programs over the past few years.
"They're a real top-notch program. They were 8-2 last season, and probably the favorite to win Class 3A in Washington" next season, Richey said. "It's the first time we've had a team (from outside Alaska) come up here in quite a while. ...
"We thought it would be a nice match for us, a nice fit."
But for all its success, Rainier Beach attracted lots of media attention last season not for its players, but because of a volunteer quarterbacks coach - Rick Neuheisel.
Neuheisel, the former head football coach at the University of Washington, took a volunteer position with the Vikings in August after he was fired by the university last summer.
School officials dismissed Neuheisel for participating in an college basketball betting pool and later misleading NCAA investigators. It was the latest in a string of NCAA infractions in the Huskies football program during Neuheisel's tenure.
At the time Neuheisel volunteered to coach, Rainier Beach head coach Mark Haley told the media that Neuheisel joined the Vikings' staff to get back to hands-on coaching, and because Neuheisel liked the program and the players.
Rainier Beach officials told Crimson Bear coaches that they expect Neuheisel - who is still involved in litigation with the university - to return to the Vikings next season and thus likely make the trip to Juneau.
Richey said the Crimson Bears, coming off an 8-3 season, a state runner-up finish and their first-ever appearance in the state championship game last October, were looking to bring a tough Outside opponent in for next season.
Juneau offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos took charge of the search, and put a notice on a Washington State football coaches' Web site. He got several responses, but Rainier Beach's stood out.
Among their other accomplishments in the Seattle area, the Vikings snapped O'Dea High School's 71-game winning streak in 2001. The school's boys basketball team - featuring some football players - is nationally ranked. And the Vikings' junior varsity squad will also travel to Juneau to face the Crimson Bear JV.
"This is a good thing for our program, to see where we're at," Sjoroos said.
Sjoroos said Rainier Beach is an inner-city school, and school officials cited giving players the experience of coming to Alaska as one reason for taking the opportunity.
Out-of-state opponents were more common for Juneau during the program's formative years in the early 1990s. But since Juneau joined the Cook Inlet Football Conference in the mid-1990s, a ready-made lineup of conference games has made out-of-state opponents less of a necessity.
Juneau's last game against an out-of-state team was a 40-9 win over Victoria, British Columbia, on Oct. 4, 1996, at Adair-Kennedy Field.
The Juneau Empire sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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