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JUNEAU - The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears return a wealth of experience from last year's 4A state runner-up, but this season's hopes could rest on the shoulders - or arm - of a freshman.
Phillip Fenumiai will lead the offense as its starting quarterback, but he's not a traditional freshman at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds. Coach Bill Chalmers said he's never started a freshman under center before, but he thinks Fenumiai has what it takes to be the first.
"We've had some running backs and receivers that have been freshman starters, so this is really unusual, but he's an unusual kid," Chalmers said. "He can throw the ball beautifully, and we're working on his footwork. We're expecting good things, and I don't think that anybody is going to take advantage of the fact that he's a freshman.
"If they try, he'll burn them."
Chalmers tabbed Fenumiai as a drop-back passer that will fit in nicely with the team's Pro Set spread offense, which uses four receivers, including a tight end, and one running back.
"Right now, he's passing and using his head, handing the ball off and not fumbling is what he does best," Chalmers said. "He's not the fastest of our backs, but he's not the slowest, either. When he develops into his man legs, he'll be fine."
Fenumiai understands that most of the offense's success hinges on him making gooddecisions with the football.
"I'm going to have to lead the team because they're counting on me," he said. "When it comes down to when we need a play, I'm going to have to pull it out for the team. There's a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but I think I can handle it because we have a lot of veterans on the team that will keep me up. They keep encouraging me and telling me that I'm doing a good job."
Aside from youth at the quarterback position, the rest of the offense is filled with seasoned veterans, including the offensive line.
Paul Tupou (6-foot-3, 242 pounds) will start at center, surrounded by Eric Sele (6-foot-2, 230), Buzzy Hotch (6-foot, 270), Eric Ashenfelter (5-foot-9, 274), Thomas Tajon (6-foot, 214) and Lawrence Fenumiai (6-foot-4, 272). All are seniors except Ashenfelter, who is a junior.
"These are all experienced guys that have been around before," Chalmers said. "These are really coachable kids. Good,
strong athletes, yes-sir-no-sir-type people, and I'm really looking forward to coaching them."
Sele will likely man the all-important left tackle spot, protecting theright-handed quarterback's blind side.
Phillip Fenumiai also has the luxury handing the ball off to a former state rushing leader, Silver Maake (5-foot-11, 230). Maake rushed for 1,200 yards as asophomore.
"He led the state in rushing as a sophomore, and then had problems as a junior with injuries," Chalmers said. "He's really been working hard in the off-season, and we expect he'll do really well this year. He's really a powerful runner, and fast."
Junior Justin Brooks will provide depth, and senior Jack Perkins (6-foot-1, 211) will see time at fullback.
Lawrence Fenumiai also will be a top receiving target from the tight end position."We put the tight end offense in because of Lawrence because he's a big kid, and he's got pretty good speed and great hands," Chalmers said. "He's a real threat, and he did us a mammoth service last year, and I think he'll be a real team maker this year."
Out wide will be juniors Eric Fagerstrom and Chris Holloway, who Chalmers said are the two fastestplayers on the team.
"Eric has been a receiver since he was a freshman," Chalmers said. "He just gets bigger and faster every year. If he can stay healthy, he'll make a lot of waves.
"Chris Holloway ... has worked really hard on his speed this off-season and has developed into a really goodreceiver and defensive back because of it."
Phillip Fenumiai expects big things in his first season at the helm.
"We have a great line to protect me and we have a great backfield with a lethal running back, got Jack as my fullback and we have some good wide receivers, too, that can catch the ball," he said. "I think we're going to bereally good this year."
The Bears will run a varied defense, changing from play to play under new coordinator Emil West. West was anassistant line coach last year
"He was a good motivator, an excellent instructor and he'll carry on in the Eddie Brakes tradition of shutting (opponents) down," Chalmers said of West's promotion.
Perkins returns for his senior campaign at middle linebacker after being named Alaska's defensive player of the year last season and leading the Bears in tackles.
"The heart of our defense is Jack Perkins," Chalmers said.
Senior Stephen Costello will man the other inside linebacker position, with senior Silver Maake on the outside. The final spot is open, but freshman Jake Robinson has been turning heads.
"(Tuesday), we saw ... Jake Robinson tearing the heads off people," Chalmers said. "He really impressed us. Watch out for him. He could break into that spot."
Hotch, Tupou, Lawrence Fenumiai and Tajon will anchor the defensive line, with Manny Bell and La Fifita adding depth.
"We have a lot of people that can play a lot of different positions because we have so much experience," Chalmers said. "We've got 16 seniors, so that's a lot of people coming back from a not-too-shabby team last year. We're lookingforward to shuffling people in and out."
Chalmers said Matthew Maka, though only 5-foot-7, 165 pounds, is the "hardest hitter you'll ever see on afootball field" from the safety position.
"He just loves to hit," he said. "He's kind of loose cannon out there, and one of the top three speedsters on the team."
Chris Holloway will start at corner, with Terrence Wheat and Fagerstrom battling for the other spot. Chalmers said Randy Segelhorst and Vinh Le are improving daily and will both see the field in the secondary.
Perkins, who is drawing recruiting interest from several Division I colleges, is ready to get to work.
"We've got a new defensive system coming in this year, and I'm looking forward to running it and seeing how it goes," he said. "We're always physical, and we will be again this year. The way our defense is set up, it adds some speed to the field, and it should be fun to play. We should be a lot better against the pass, and we should be just as good against the run."
Special teams will be a critical part of the team's success this year, and Chalmers said special-teams miscues cost JDHS the state championship in 2008. Maka is the top return man once again this season, but Chalmers isscrambling to find a kicker.
"We broke down, had a bad day and that happens," he said of the 22-14 title game loss to Service. "We had two kickers last year, and one graduated and the other elected not to play because he's a soccer player. He was also our punter, so we don't have anybody to kick extra points and field goals, kick off or punt.
"Chris Hoffman is one of the most versatile kids out there," he continued. "He's our backup quarterback, a tight end and wide receiver, and he will probably be our punter. We really need to work hard on special teams. You've got to have a kicker."
Chalmers said the 2009 Crimson Bears will play a tough-as-usual schedule, though having traditional rivals Palmer and Colony at home and later in the season is plus.
Chalmers said he won't make any bold predictions, but he expects to be in the mix come state playoffs time.
"I would be deeply disappointed if we weren't in the running again this year," he said. "I think we can compete against anyone in our conference. I will predict that if Jack Perkins stays healthy, he will have an all-American-type year. If Silver Maake keeps running the way that he is, he will come close to leading the state in rushing.
"And I will predict that Phillip Fenumiai will grow into his position, and I wouldn't want to play us late in theseason."