Twenty-seven players may not sound like a huge number for a football team, but it's just fine for Juneau-Douglas High School.
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With plenty of athletes and interchangeable parts on both sides of the ball, the Crimson Bears enter the 2007 Railbelt Conference season full of promise.
"We've got 27 kids on the team now," JDHS third-year coach Bill Chalmers said. "Almost all of them could be put into the game on either side of the ball without hurting us. In the past, we've had five or six guys that were playing because they work hard. All these kids are playing because they're good football players and that makes a good bit of difference."
JDHS Football Schedule
Aug. 11: Juneau-Douglas 41, Kodiak 0.
Aug. 18, 7 p.m.: at Lathrop*.
Aug. 25, 2 p.m.: at North Pole*.
Aug. 31, 8 p.m.: PALMER*.
Sept. 8, 8 p.m.: at Wasilla*.
Sept. 14, 8 p.m.: COLONY*.
Sept. 21, 8 p.m.: WEST VALLEY*.
Sept. 29, 8 p.m.: RAINIER (Ore.).
(Note: Home games in CAPS, * denotes Railbelt Conference game)
The Crimson Bears boast the most returners on defense, where the team may shine this season.
JDHS returns its defensive line, two linebackers and both cornerbacks on a defensive front that figures to be quick, powerful and perhaps dominant.
"There's going to be high expectations for the defense," defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes said. "We pride ourselves on consistency. If we can take it up another level, we'll have another shot at the postseason."
Leading the way is an experienced, athletic secondary.
Alex Fagerstrom, arguably the team's best all-around athlete, and sophomore Lincoln Maka will man the corners. Maka gained valuable experience last year, starting against eventual state champs South Anchorage.
Sophomore standout Silver Maake will play safety. Speedy and stocky at 210 pounds, Maake could make an impact defensively.
A strong secondary could allow the front eight Bears to play even more aggressively than normally, knowing the three in the back are athletic enough to clean up any mistakes.
"We've got a lot of hard hitters, a lot of guys who just want to go get the ball," Fagerstrom said. "We'll be good at rushing and blitzing. We'll be a good, hard-hitting, fast team."
The Bears' five-man defensive line figures to be bigger and stronger this year.
The biggest change defensively for JDHS revolves around Faifo Levale. The 6-foot-2, 285-pound senior moves from defensive end to tackle this year. After spending his first couple seasons as a blistering fast pass rusher, he must make the adjustment to run-stuffing tackle.
"I feel like wherever coach needs me, I'll play," Levale said. "I think right now our best choice for me is to go inside. We have people who can play outside just as well as me."
If Levale demands extra attention from opposing offensive lines, defensive ends Zach Heppner and Dominic Smith may get easier paths to the quarterback.
Heppner enjoyed a breakout season last year while Smith, a star soccer player, also will kick for the Bears.
Also on the line, Jake Nelson, Chance Gallettes and Phil Moser will also play tackle.
The linebacking corps features returning senior Donovan Wilson in the middle. Wilson was one of Juneau's most durable players last year.
Tuavao Maake and Nate Wilson also will play linebacker this season.
"Tuavao Maake is a remarkable athlete," Chalmers said. "He looks like a round, little guy, but he's not. He's strong, fast and smart and plays that position really well."
Offensively, expect to see a more ground-oriented attack from Juneau-Douglas this year.
Maake returns to tailback after breaking his right leg during the second game of the season last year. He'll be expected to handle the bulk of the carries.
"He'll be our feature back, for sure," JDHS offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said.
Complimenting Maake will be Fagerstrom, who will play Sjoroos wide receiver/running back hybrid position. The junior will be put in motion frequently, hoping to create mismatches on the run or catching passes out of the backfield.
In the fullback position, Wilson and Tuavao Maake will man the spot.
Wilson moves from the line to fullback and improved his blocking and pass-catching skills in the process.
"I'm starting to understand the plays more," Wilson said. "I'm getting the plays in my head. I can envision it now, and it's easier to understand."
A strong running game will be an invaluable asset to the Crimson Bears' two quarterbacks - Ryan "Bubba" Larson and Sandon Fisher.
Larson, a senior, is suiting up after a four-year hiatus from competitive football. However, with such a strong running game, he'll only need to make a few plays a game for the team to be successful.
"(Silver Maake) is going to take a lot of pressure off of me because he'll run the ball a lot," Larson said. "Alex can run the ball, catch it. The kid's got great hands. We're just going to set the pass up with the run."
Fisher, on the other hand, may not have Larson's height or size, but he has a definite advantage in experience. Fisher was the junior varsity quarterback last year and should see time on the varsity this season.
Freshman Eric Fagerstrom, senior Erick Waters and Jesse West, returning from a broken arm, will play wide receiver.
The biggest question mark surrounding the team is along the offensive line where five new starters will take over.
Levale will anchor the line at center.
Junior varsity call-ups Matt Lehrbach, Lawrence Fenumiai and Nelson - along with Moser - will need to jell quickly.
"Last two years I've been here, the line chemistry has been great and that's what's been taking us a long way," Levale said. "That's something we lack right now because we're so young. ... If we get it done, we'll have no problem."
Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears
2006 Record: 6-4 (reached state semifinals)
Coaches: Bill Chalmers (3rd year, 16-5 overall). Offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos, defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes, assistant coaches Nick Lammi, Emil West and Romney Tupou.
Key returners: Silver Maake, RB/S, so.; Faifo Levale, C/DT, sr.; Alex Fagerstrom, RB/CB, jr.; Donovan Wilson, FB/MLB, sr.,; Phil Moser, OL/DT, sr.,; Dominic Smith, K/DE, sr.,; Zach Heppner, DE, sr., Tuavao Maake, FB/LB, sr., Lincoln Maka, CB, jr.
Key newcomers: Ryan Larson, QB, sr.,; Sandon Fisher, QB, sr.,; Eric Fagerstrom, WR, fr.; Lawrence Fenumiai, OG, so.,; Jake Nelson, OT/DT, sr.,; Matt Lehrbach, OL, jr.,; Chance Gallettes, LB, so.