• First game at Monroe Catholic canceled due to high smoke levels around Fairbanks
By Sean Pearson
Mariner Football fans looking for something a little different on the gridiron this year should be pleasantly surprised with a few of the changes new head coach Josh Fraley has lined up for this season.
And, while we can all recognize change as a good thing, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy.
“Anytime you make some big changes, it can be hard to adjust,” said senior running back Joey Cardoza. “But at the same time, a new start is refreshing and can lead to greatness. That’s what we strive for each day as a team.”
Not only did the Mariners lose a number of big linemen to graduation last year, they are also having to adapt to new coaches and coaching styles with the departure of long-time head coach Camron Wyatt.
Fraley, however, is no stranger to the program. And, with the implementation of a completely new offense, he hopes to bring a little more excitement to the scoring side of the program.
“We’re definitely planning to have some kind of passing game this year,” Fraley said, noting the talent — and height — of junior quarterback Sheldon Hutt. “We’re not a real big team, but I think the change in offense will make the size of our O-line much less crucial.”
Heading up the backfield for the M’s will be Cardoza, and sophomore transfer Josh Fisk.
“Joey has a lot of speed and power when he just takes the ball and runs straight upfield,” Fraley explained. “Fisk is more of a ‘juker.’ He’s good with footwork and side-stepping tacklers. The two should make for a well-rounded running game.”
Junior Ian Lowe will also take on some of the running duties for the M’s this year, as well as adding to the receiving talents on the field.
Lowe said he hasn’t found the changes in players and coaching staff very difficult, as he knew it was coming and had time to prepare.
“As for the offense, it will take a little bit of time for the team to fully learn it,” he said. “But, we have the basics down and the rest shouldn’t take too long.”
Leading the way for Homer receivers is senior returner Gabe Selbig. Fraley called Selbig one of the “hardest-working” players on the team; a testament to his being named “Mariner of the Week” for “Hell Week.”
First-year footballer Drew Brown will see receiving action on the other side of the line. The spring soccer player’s kicking ability also opens up more scoring opportunities for Homer, as he continues to split the uprights from various distances on the field in practice.
Coach Rick Alexander heads up the defensive side for the Mariners, who — with currently only 20 total players — will often be required to play both offense and defense in games.
Alexander will pick up some hard hitting defense from players Gage Flyum, Patrick Rainwater and Hunter Harris. He looks to Connor Seay, Zach McKenna and Cardoza for pass coverage.
The team finished “Hell Week” last Friday, with Fraley saying he was impressed that he only had “pukers” on the first day of practice.
And, while his players may not have a warm and fuzzy feeling about conditioning four hours a day for five days straight, they tend to recognize the importance of their efforts.
“I think Coach Fraley was hard on us, but at a level that was appropriate,” Lowe said. “He was able to get us in shape, as well as getting us excited for the upcoming season.”
The varsity team was scheduled to travel to Fairbanks on Saturday to face Monroe Catholic, but the game was canceled due to the high smoke levels in the area from ongoing wildfires.”
With just over one week of practice under their belts, it’s easy to understand how Fraley was both disappointed and relieved that the game was cut.
“At this point, I’m feeling anxious to get a game under our belt,” he explained. “But, at the same time, I’m grateful for the extra practice time.”
Cardoza somewhat agreed.
“I am definitely disappointed,” he said. “We were looking forward to playing a team we weren’t used to, but at least now we don’t have to ride on a yellow bus for 12 hours.”
Fraley said he hopes to get a scrimmage set up with Voznesenka on Saturday, just to get the boys some game time experience. The team now looks toward August 24, when they host Kodiak for their season opener.
“I’m excited to see how the hard work we have put in stacks up against another team both offensively and defensively,” Fraley explained. “I also think we are going to see a tight group of young men who are like family.”
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