The Juneau-Douglas High School football team faced some dark days to start their season, but a late-season surge has brought some light, in the form of sparkling awards, to the end of their tunnel.
The Crimson Bears racked up 10 Railbelt All-Conference awards, including five players making first-team honors.
Senior running back and defensive back Alex Fagerstrom, a third-year starter on both sides of the ball for Juneau-Douglas, made the league's first-team offensive and defensive squads. Fagerstrom, who has taken much of the offensive load for the Crimson Bears during their run to the playoffs, also added the conference's Offensive Player of the Year and Utility Player of the Year Awards. He will add his awards to a list that also includes first team All-State and All-Conference awards as a wide receiver last season. He was also the state and conference's offensive player of the year in 2007.
"He could be the most gifted athlete in the state of Alaska, but what makes him more unique than everybody else is that he works harder than they do," assistant coach Eddie Brakes said. "He's humble, but he gives all he has on the field in practice and at game time."
Junior offensive tackle and linebacker Jack Perkins joined Fagerstrom on both first teams. Perkins only joined the offensive line midway through the season, but has been a key component in the recent revival of JDHS' ground game. He is also the team's current leading tackler from his linebacker spot. Both nominations are Perkins' first.
"Jack's a true leader - he leads by his actions," Brakes said. "He doesn't say a whole lot but he's going to show you how it should be done on and off the field."
Senior guard Matthew Lehrbach was Juneau-Douglas' third and final nomination to the conference's first team.
"Matt has really matured this year and did everything he could for the team," Brakes said.
Defensive lineman Enoch Fifita and linebacker Lincoln Maka, both seniors, joined their teammates on the Railbelt's offensive first team.
"Enoch is a first-year football player, but a veteran ruby player who has stuffed runners any time they came his way this season," Brakes said.
"Lincoln is just the definition of a team player. He was an all-state defensive back last year and he became an all-conference linebacker because of our hole at the position," Brakes said. "That's the definition of a team player."
Senior quarterback Dakotah Smith and junior guard Eric Sele both made the Railbelt's offensive second-team for the first all-conference nods of their careers.
"Dakotah Smith is just an awesome leader. He sort of got jerked around positions this year, but he helped everything fall into place for this team," Brakes said. "Eric is a great basketball player decided to give football a shot and we're sure glad he has. He really helps pave the way for (Fagerstrom)."
Sophomore defensive back and safety Matthew Maka, fresh off an interception to help seal last weekend's playoff win at Palmer, was the only Crimson Bear to make the Railbelt's defensive second team.
"Matthew's still young, but he may be competing with (Perkins) to lead the team in tackles," Brakes said. "That just shows that he's instinctive and an absolute natural football player."
Both of the team's kickers, senior place kicker Joe Slagle and junior punter Victor Wilson, also made the Railbelt's special teams second team. It was both of the players' first year as members of the Crimson Bears.
"Victor and Joe - those are the unsung heroes. They give our team awesome field position and they don't get a lot of limelight," Brakes said. "They set up everybody on the team for success and we couldn't ask for anything more at their positions."
Offensive Player of the Year - Alex Fagerstrom, Juneau. Defensive Player of the Year - Steve Wright, North Pole. Lineman of the Year - Jackson Collins, North Pole. Assistant Coaches of the Year - Rusty Ham and Luke Balash, North Pole. Coach of the Year - Richard Henert, North Pole.
First Team Offense
Center - Balin Babcock, Colony. Guard - Mike Sewell, North Pole; Matt Lehrbach, Juneau; Daniel Contini, Palmer. Tackle - Matt Packa, Colony; Jack Perkins, Juneau; Clay Tidwell; North Pole. Tight End - Tim Orr, Wasilla. Wide Receiver - Tim Jaronik, Colony; Mitch Swetzof, Palmer. Quarterback - Collin Murphy, Colony. Fullback - Taylor Lewis, North Pole. Running Back - Chris Crane, Wasilla; Alex Fagerstrom, Juneau; Brennan Bohman, Palmer; Dane Ebanez, North Pole.
First Team Defense
End - Chris Krieg, Colony; Philip Warwick, North Pole. Interior Linemen - Kevin Priestley, Palmer; Jackson Collins, North Pole; Matt Craft, West Valley; Enoch Fifita, Juneau. Inside Linebacker - JD Mitchell, Palmer; Jack Perkins, Juneau; Kevin Ward, North Pole. Outside Linebacker - Lincoln Maka, Juneau; Lee Jones, North Pole; Casey Katchinska, Wasilla. Defensive Back - Alex Fagerstrom, Juneau; Collin Murphy, Colony; Steve Wright, North Pole; Vic Wisel; West Valley.
First Team Special Teams
Kicker - Phillip Hingst, North Pole; Zach Zegzdryn, Palmer. Punter - Dan Ebanez, North Pole. Kick Returner - John Daly, Palmer. Punt Returner - Brennan Bohman, Palmer. Long Snapper - Aaron Mabee, Lathrop. Utility Player - Alex Fagerstrom, Juneau.
Second Team Offense
Center - Kevin Priestly, Palmer. Guard - Aaron Mabee, Lathrop; Chris Lafe, Wasilla; Eric Sele, Juneau. Tackle - Matt Craft, West Valley; Jackson Collins, North Pole; Raymond Chapman, Palmer. Tight End - Jeffrey Mitchell, Palmer. Wide receiver - Tillerman Kroon, Wasilla; Matt Jaronik, Colony. Quarterback - Dakotah Smith, Juneau. Fullback - Coleman Ahrens, Palmer. Running Back - Gino Paoletti, Colony; AJ Allen, Lathrop; Eric Antesberger, North Pole; Jacob Claypoole, West Valley.
Second Team Defense
Defensive End - Ishmael Agae, West Valley; Jake Jackson, West Valley. Interior Linemen - Shane Duque, Colony; Mike Sewell, North Pole; Ransome Kelley, Palmer; Clay Tidwell, North Pole; Eric Fan, Colony. Outside Linebacker - Doug Templeton, West Valley; Coleman Ahrens, Palmer. Inside Linebacker - Brandon Nichols, Lathrop; Alex Innes, North Pole; Balin Babcock, Colony. Defensive Back - Matthew Maka, Juneau; Dane Ebanez, North Pole; Mitch Swetzof, Palmer; Matt Jaronik, Colony.
Second Team Special Teams
Kicker - Joe Slagle, Juneau. Kick returner - Corey Mock, Wasilla; Dane Ebanez, North Pole. Punt Returner - Dane Ebanez, North Pole; Corey Mock, Wasilla. Punter - Victor Wilson, Juneau. Long Snapper - John Church, Palmer. Utility Player - Dane Ebanez, North Pole; Matt Jaronik, Colony.
Honorable Mention Offense
Center - Jordan Lewis, Lathrop; Keith Lemay, North Pole; Brandon Shira, West Valley. Guard - Chris Wentland, North Pole; Jed Johnson, Wasilla; Aaron McCauley, West Valley. Wide Receiver - David Richard, Lathrop; Steve Wright; North Pole. Quarterback - Sam McKinstry, West Valley. Fullback - Chris Krieg, Colony.
Honorable Mention Defense
End - John Daly, Palmer; Matt Packa, Colony; Josh Eriksen, North Pole. Inside Linebacker - James Langendorf, Wasilla. Defensive Back - Tillerman Kroon, Wasilla; Jared Isaacson, North Pole; Chris Crane, Wasilla; Brennan Bohman, Palmer.
Honorable Mention Special Teams
Kicker - Tillerman Kroon, Wasilla. Punter - Todd Stephens, Lathrop; Tillerman Kroon, Wasilla. Long Snapper - Josh Hollett, North Pole; Tim Orr, Wasilla; JD Mayo, Colony. Utility Player - Vic Wisel, West Valley.