Times and high school football fields are a-changing in Alaska. And that's a good thing, said
Colony (Palmer, Alaska)
coach Brian McIntosh.
Of course, McIntosh is from Montana. He's not a native Alaskan, who take pride in their eight-game regular seasons, their early August openers and late October title tilts, their game delays due to polar bear sightings (at least North near Barrow).
Old-school natives think the Junction Boys
have nothing on their boys, even without Paul Bear Bryant cracking the whip.
"The practice fields are not really much more than dirt and rocks up here," said McIntosh, in his 10th year at Colony. "The weather takes its toll."
Enter the modern era.
Field turfs are taking over, which is good for referees, PA announcers, stat keepers, and of course the fleetest of football players.
Yes, there's plenty of speed in Alaska. Gotta out-run those polar bears.
But seriously folks, Alaska football is getting better, and outsiders are taking more notice, said McIntosh, a former player at Minot State
in North Dakota. Exciting times
McIntosh's 2010 Colony team that made the ASAA
state semifinals sent eight players on to the next level, and six are still playing as college juniors. Last year five seniors advanced to play college football.
It's even a higher percentage, McIntosh said, within Anchorage, where kids are generally a little bigger and faster.
"Alaskan kids are starting to get recruited here in the last decade," he said. "There's not a ton going on to Division I per se, but guys are moving on to Division II and III and NAIA programs. Many are taking the junior college route. It's exciting."
Without college programs in Alaska to funnel to, local products are having to travel to the "lower 48," where weather doesn't prohibit them from playing year-round.
According to databasefootball.com
, only nine native Alaskans have made it to the NFL, the most famous being current ESPN analyst and former Redskins and Broncos offensive lineman Mark Schlereth (156 games played in the NFL from 1989 to 2000) and Falcons defensive tackle Travis Hall (150 games from 1995-2005).
Schlereth went to Service (Anchorage)
High School before playing at the University of Idaho. Hall, born in Kenai (Ala.), moved to Utah and attended West Jordan
before playing at BYU.
"You have to be tough to play in Alaska," McIntosh said.
Indeed. It's not so daunting facing talented college or NFL players after braving below zero temperatures in howling winds on rock fields in Alaska. Unanswered question
McIntosh braved many daunting days in the outskirts/village region of Alaska for three years, "but I wanted to coach," he said. "It was in my blood."
He's been a coach at Colony, located 30 miles outside of Anchorage, for 10 years, the last four as the head coach. With 1,000 students, Colony plays in Alaska's largest division — there's only 13 schools that do — but is on the small side compared to most Anchorage schools, which boast as many as 2,200 students.
On Friday, he and his Knights travel to Anchorage Football Stadium — recently resurfaced with field turf — to take on perennial power Service, which is ranked No. 1 in the state's preseason Fab 5 by MaxPreps. See MaxPreps' 2013 Alaska preseason football Fab 5.
It's part of Alaska's kickoff to the football season, also the nation's traditional start to the new prep year. This season, Hawaii kicked off the season nationally last week while Alaska, for some unknown reason, pushed its openers back a week. Sign up to Qwixscore the Colony at Service game for MaxPreps.
"Nobody can answer why we're starting later," McIntosh said. "Everyone wants to know."
Said new Service coach Kevin Kern: "Last year we played three games before school started. This year it's only one. Maybe they want to get more students and people in the stands early on."
McIntosh picked Service as the team's opener because last year the Knights opened with three straight wins by a combined 92-point margin. It didn't help them in the long run.
Even with a dynamite spread offense, Colony went 2-3 the last five weeks and missed the playoffs. "We were four points from being 7-1 and then who knows," he said.
He knows his team will need to play an 'A' game to defeat Service.
"It's a great opportunity to play a great program," McIntosh said. "It should prove a great measuring stick to see where we are and where we need to improve."
Kern, who has been in the Service program for more than a decade should run the same spread offense to utilize its speed. Service will need to replace All-State quarterback Viliamu Aukusitino but in C.J. Toomer, Kern thinks he has just the right guy. The burly 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior opened last season at quarterback, then moved to receiver.
"I think (Toomer) is the best quarterback in the state," Kern said.
Toomer is just the tip of the iceberg — no pun intended — McIntosh said.
"They have some big boys," he said. "We expect them to be big and fast and to be the ultimate challenge."Can't handle the heat
The weather – always at issue — should be typically cool (63 degrees) and soggy. Rain is predicted.
It's unlike two seasons ago, McIntosh said, when temperatures soared into the 80s on opening weekend.
"The referees kept calling timeouts for water breaks," McIntosh said. "Nobody was charged with it, but everyone knows Alaskans can't handle the heat."
And it's doubtful many teams will be able to handle McIntosh's pair of 6-foot-4 receivers, Antonio Bush
(180 pounds) and Daniel Bilafer
Bush is "really athletic," McIntosh said, and has serious interest from the University of Montana. Bilafer has loads of D2 offers and is one of the state's most prolific career receivers. He had 58 catches for 688 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Bush had 58 catches for 851 yards and nine more scores.
Starting quarterback Bryce Niver
was the team's leading rusher at running back last year, with 525 yards and five scores.
Bush, Bilafer and Niver were three of eight sophomores who started two seasons ago and will start Friday night.
Colony has a chance to win the school's first state title after losing twice in the finals.
"Bottom line, these are high school kids so anything can happen," McIntosh said. "But if they get on a roll, they are definitely capable (of winning a state crown). I haven't seen the other teams yet. Sometimes it just depends on how the ball bounces."
And how far the temperature drops. Last season, the Knights' season ended on Sept. 28 with a wild 48-42 defeat at, of all places, the North Pole, the Northernmost point on the Earth. Temperatures dipped well below freezing. No Santa or polar bear sightings, but plenty of prep football follies.
"The weather conditions will always have an effect on football in Alaska," McIntosh said. "You better know how to do a little bit of everything — run, pass, kick — or you'll have a tough time surviving."