By Sean Pearson
Homer Head Football Coach Josh Fraley has a few mixed feelings about the school’s newly installed artificial turf football field.
“It’s great; absolutely beautiful,” he said of the colorful field with a big Mariner wheel emblazoned on the 50 yeard line. “All the guys keep looking at it and saying, ‘it’s so big.’ Obviously it’s the same size, but it certainly gives the illusion of being much bigger. It is so much nicer than what we had.”
Ahhh … but perhaps the new, pristine field is a double-edged sword.
“Well, the old field actually helped slow down some of our faster opponents,” Fraley explained. “We could always count on an occasional rock or hole to trip up one or two of them.”
Still, less ankle and knee injuries are definitely a good thing.
Fraley and assistant coaches Rick Alexander and Scott Cardoza return to work with the m”s this year. Fraley said he found the opening-day turnout of 20-plus guys to be somewhat encouraging; especially since many students/players are still out fishing.
“We hope to see more guys show up once school starts,” he said. “Some are still out fishing, but we have two games to play before school even starts.”
Fraley said a show of hands on the first day indicated that the team was pretty heavy in seniors and freshmen.
“We had no sophomores, and only two juniors,” he said. “But our freshmen are experienced. They come from a background of Pop Warner, and it really shows. We don’t have to spend time going over all the basics of the game and teaching them how to play.”
Fraley said he is expecting good things from freshmen Teddy Croft, Justin Sumption and Wyatt Alborn.
“It’s gonna be a tough season — similar to last year,” he said. “We’re skinny and don’t have too many big guys, but we’re strong and fast.”
In his third season as starting quarterback, senior Sheldon Hutt looks to lead the Mariners. Fraley said the team would also benefit from the return of Ben Knisely, who played two years ago, but missed last season.
“Ben is a big kid who is both physical and smart,” Fraley said. “We’re hoping to use him to run the ball more.”
The coaches introduced a 15-week weight training program during the offseason, where players committed to 6 a.m. workouts, five days a week.
“I can absolutely see the difference,” Fraley said of the offseason training. “There was a core group of six to eight guys who never missed a day. We also had a camp two weeks before the season started, so it was great already having most of the guys in shape.”
Fraley said the team will work on its ground game this year, and he looks to junior backs Mike Swoboda and Josh Fisk to bust a few holes in the opposing team’s defensive line.
Junior standout Connor Seay will be at the wide out position this year. Fraley said he plans to use Seay’s speed as much as possible.
Senior Ian Lowe separated his shoulder last season, but worked in the weight room to strengthen it back up again.
“Ian was pretty sore in the beginning, but he pushed hard through the weight training,” Fraley said. “Now, he’s solid; it’s like his injury never happened.”
The M’s open their season at home against Eielson on Aug. 16. After that, they hit the road for some serious travel.
“We have a ton of traveling to do this season — and it’s all in a row,” Fraley said. “After Eielson, we head to Kodiak, then Barrow and then Valdez for our next three games.”
That translates into a lot of bus, airplane a ferry time, but Fraley said he sees it as a great opportunity for the team to build a little cohesiveness.
“We have a lot of weapons,” we just need to figure out how to put them together to get the very best out on the field,” he said. “And we need to stay healthy, since our conference games are at the back end of the schedule.”
Homer plays SoHi at home this year, travels to Kenai to take on the Kardinals, and then returns home to host Houston for Homecoming.
What: Field Opening and Community Celebration
When: Aug. 16
Where: Homer High School
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