Throughout the Juneau-Douglas High School football team's march to the first state title in school history, there has been an unseen hand guiding them.
The Crimson Bears plowed through the season with resolve and focus. They could not be divided and no force, injury or circumstance could break the bond that held them together.
Though he wasn't on the sidelines, Juneau-Douglas late football coach Reilly Richey had a visible imprint on this state championship team. Richey passed away in March after coaching the team since 1997.
"This is a dream come true," JDHS head coach Bill Chalmers said on the radio minutes after Saturday's 49-29 win over Palmer. "It's an unbelievable, miraculous season and it's all for Reilly Richey."
On Thursday, Chalmers said at the pep rally that the team plays with two hearts - their own and Richey's.
The stickers on the team's helmets spoke of Richey. While most squads slap bear claws, little footballs or skull and crossbones emblems on their helmets, Juneau's black helmets featured the acronym RIENG - Richey's phrase that translated into "Respect is earned, not given."
That's what the Juneau-Douglas team did this season - they earned respect.
The Crimson Bears didn't earn respect by big words, but by perseverance and determination. Injuries, though they were many, could not stop this team. Being down on the scoreboard could not curtail the Crimson Bears.
Even after the 48-7 loss to Pasco, Wash., on Oct. 1, the team went immediately back to work and became stronger.
That's what Richey taught them to do during his time with them. Go earn respect and stand by your team.
The offensive line, though they may be the smallest in Alaska, played with an intensity and unity that honored their late coach.
On Thursday, JDHS line coach Romney Tupou said he wanted the line to know that they are the foundations of a beautiful building. That building, Tupou said, was being built for Reilly Richey.
Anyone listening to Saturday's game or watched the 49-29 win in Anchorage knew that building must have looked tremendous. Led by the offensive line, senior tailback Tres Saldivar broke the record for rushing yards in a championship game with 330.
Saldivar, one of the toughest and most consistent running backs in the state, couldn't have rushed for all those yards had people not blocked for him.
The rushing game couldn't have been successful without the threat of Juneau-Douglas' passing game.
The offensive couldn't have racked up all those points - most in Alaska - if the defense didn't shut down the opposition.
The defense couldn't have been so dominant this year if the kicking game didn't pin opposing teams back in the field position.
The players couldn't have performed at their peak level if the coaching staff didn't properly train them during the week.
Finally, the team couldn't have even gotten to Anchorage or anywhere else without the massive fundraising effort it takes every year to keep the program moving.
Get the picture?
Every part of the football team and program is dependent on every other part. Without that unity and cohesion, the program and team would fall apart.
Richey laid the groundwork for that mentality.
"We made a pact at the beginning of the year that we'll be a family, not a team," JDHS wide receiver Angelo Katasse said on air Saturday. "If one person fell down, a big brother picks them up."
No, Reilly Richey wasn't on the sidelines this season.
He was, however, with the entire team.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com
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