JUNEAU - Not only are eight coaches at Thunder Mountain High School trying to build a first-year football program in the shadow of a traditional state power, they're also working to prove that Juneau is big enough for two teams.
"We have to prove to the community that it can sustain two teams, and give them a good program to come and watch," head football coach Bill Byouer said. "The community has already started to see our kids in action, helping out fundraising and showing that they're learning something more than football.
"Not only are we building players, but we are also buildingcitizens of society."
Byouer served as the junior varsity head coach at Juneau-Douglas High School for two years after moving here in 2004. The Crimson Bears are consistently near the top of the state rankings, which is where Byouer envisions his new team in a few years. The Falcons won't be eligible for the state playoffs until 2011.
"They have a strong program there, and they've consistently been involved with state championships," Byouer said of JDHS. "That's one area where the community is so supportive of JDHS before Thunder Mountain High School, and they had to produce. They had to show winning seasons and winning state championships. I think the community has gotten used to that, so I want to be able to show that we can do that, too.
"I haven't seen all the kids - besides in the weight room and throwing in 7-on-7 - but they look like they should be able to do pretty well this year and give the community what they want, and that's titles."
Thunder Mountain, which has 45 kids out for football, will compete in class 3A against other schools with less than 800 students. JDHS will remain in 4A, but the two schools will vie for a city championship in the near future.
"We'll be in a different league, but it doesn't mean we won't end up playing JDHS eventually," Byouer said. "It won't happen this year, but it could probably be in place for next year."
Byouer said the chance to help start a new program was a big draw for him.
"I've done everything in football that I think I could do, besides winning a state championship and starting a program," he said. "With me starting this football program this year, it's a lot of work. You have to juggle it between family, and I'd like to thank my wife, Chris, for being so supportive. But it's everything from a concession stand and electricity to markers on the field, bleachers, garbage cans, gear, equipment, getting the kids lined up and giving them something to look forward to.
Thunder Mountain also has a brand-new turf football field, which Byouer calls "my baby."
"Follow the rules, or you'll have to come talk to me," Byouer said with a smile in reference to a sign with field rules posted on the gate.
So after months of planning and organizing, it's time to get down to the business of football.
The team took the field for the first time in 7-on-7 passing drills on July 6. Camp, which is open to all high school-age kids in the area, starts on July 20, and the season opener is Aug. 7 at Sitka. Local football fans, however, will have to wait to see the Falcons in action. The home opener isn't until Week 4 of the football season against Ketchikan.
"I'm so eager. From doing all this stuff that you have to do before the season to finally getting to the reason why you're out here - to work with the kids, see them develop and get on the field, I'm very much looking forward to that," Byouer said. That's why I'm doing this is to get to that game time.
"We will definitely be a product of Juneau that the community will enjoy coming and seeing."