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Juneau-Douglas football begins anew Saturday with South Anchorage visiting town in what Crimson Bears coach Rich Sjoroos called the first step in a difficult four-game stretch to open the 2010 campaign.
"To me, that's the toughest season opener that we've had in 21 years of having a team," he said. "The reason I say that is because they've never been here before and they've got a strong program. Over the last five years, we are the two winningest teams in the state."
After JDHS opens with South at 8 p.m. Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, the Crimson Bears hit the road for three straight Railbelt Conference games at West Valley, Palmer and Colony.
South and Juneau-Douglas have never met in the regular season, and the last time they battled was in the 2008 4A state semifinals in a game former JDHS coach Bill Chalmers - who won two state titles with the Bears - said last year was the most memorable of his coaching career.
"We came from behind and ended their undefeated season in the playoffs two years ago," Sjoroos explained. "We came back from down two touchdowns in the last six minutes to win, and I just think that's something that never goes away in your mind. South will use that as motivation when they come into town to try and get some redemption.
"The upside to that is it's easy to motivate everybody."
Sjoroos said South likes to run the Fly Offense, which is predicated on getting speed to the edges and catching the defense off guard with misdirection plays.
"It's a solid, real precision offense and it's hard to simulate," Sjoroos said. "They traditionally have good athletes, lots of different running backs and they're a solid team."
Elliott Bauer returns to key South's attack at running back.
"I think he ran for 800 to 900 yards last year and was All-State," Sjoroos said. "He's a tough kid. The thing with them, though, is with any one play, four different people could touch the ball because of the offense they run. They want you to key on one guy, and then they'll have somebody else burn you.
"They can sweep out of that (offense), they run power up the middle, they can play-action -t's a pretty good offense."
Sjoroos said rising senior running back Justin Brooks' status is a game-time decision after he suffered a mild high ankle sprain in last Saturday's scrimmage against Thunder Mountain. Brooks had to be carried off the field after hurting himself crossing the goal line while being tackled on about a 25-yard touchdown run.
"It's a pretty mild sprain," Sjoroos said. "He's bounced back and we've been keeping him off of it this week. We'd like to see him out there but we also know it's a long season so we'll have to be smart about it."
JDHS is ranked No. 3 in the state in the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network's preseason poll, which Sjoroos found laughable.
"No," he said quickly, referring to whether the ranking amounts to much. "I have to consider that nobody's seen us play this year and they wouldn't put us at three if they saw us. We'll let the games unfold and see what happens. That may be based on what's happened in the past, but definitely nothing that's happened so far this year.
"Let's hope we can live up to it."
Sjoroos also said he's excited to see the JV play tonight at 8 p.m. against Thunder Mountain in the inaugural Glacier Bowl. For the first and final time, the two JV squads will play for a trophy specially made for the winner of the now-annual battle of the borough -hich begins next year on the varsity level - to keep in its trophy case until the next meeting.
"I imagine that game will probably be the most intense JV game ever played (by these two schools) because of the fact that it is the start of a rivalry, and because the scrimmage went pretty well last week," he said. "The Thunder Mountain varsity changed their travel plans just so they could be at the game.
"Instead of flying over to Sitka (today), they're going Saturday morning - the day of the game - just so they can be here. That shows you how seriously everybody is taking it."
The JV matchup at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park is $5 for fans, and Sjoroos said he anticipates a big crowd.