Chugiak football looks to reload after back-to-back conference titles
Chugiak has a distinctively new look this season, but in many ways it’s still going to be the same old black and blue at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.
Gone are the team’s star player, its head coach and several key cogs from last year’s state semifinalist squad. But the sidelines still won’t look that much different, with a former Mustang taking over the head coaching job and plenty of pieces returning from a team that spent much of 2017 atop the statewide football poll.
“I think we’re going to be able to have the same run as we did in the years before, we’re in the learning curve right now,” said Tyler Huffer, one of several juniors who got varsity experience last season.
The team is young, with just a dozen seniors out of about 35 on the varsity roster. That youth means many players have a chance to step up, but it also means the Mustangs might feel some growing pains — especially early in the season. That was evident Saturday in a scrimmage against reigning Division II champion Soldotna at Chugiak, where the Stars seemed to have the upper hand in the practice session.
But that’s nothing to be ashamed of, said first-year head coach Ryan Landers.
“It went good,” Landers said after the SoHi scrimmage. “We’re going up against one of the best teams in the state. Our expectations are we’re going to compete and we’re going to learn from today, and I think we definitely did that.”
Landers is new to the head job but not new to Chugiak, having spent the past 13 seasons as an assistant. Last year he helped guide one of the state’s most potent offenses to a second straight Railbelt Conference championship and a 9-1 record. But much of Chugiak’s success was due to its superstar running back Derryk Snell, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year who is now plying his trade at Montana State.
Landers knows replacing Snell isn’t going to be easy. But in trying to do so, he said the Mustangs could actually end up a deeper squad.
“You don’t replace a player like that,” he said. “But the bottom line is I think it’s good for us because it gives our offense a little more balance for sure.”
Those players include the likes of juniors Huffer, Austin Harr, Jacob Oshesky and Quintin Wilson. Landers said all will likely see time in the backfield, with Wilson doing the signal-calling in the team’s triple-option attack. On the line, junior Collin Caldwell — an honorable mention All-Railbelt performer last season — is the lone returning starter.
Although the loss of Railbelt Conference Defensive Player of the Year Peter Giannulis will hurt, Landers said he thinks defense will be the team’s strength in the early season as the offense finds its identity.
“Our defense is going to be solid, we’ve got some good athletes out there,” he said.
Chugiak fell in a wild 75-62 loss to eventual state champion Bartlett in last year’s Division I state semifinals after ripping off an 8-0 record and its second straight Railbelt Conference title. The Mustangs have plenty of respect, and enter the season ranked No. 4 in the preseason ASBN poll.
In order to return to the lofty heights the program has been accustomed to, Landers said the team will need to continue learning on the fly.
“We’re a pretty young team this year, which gives kids an opportunity to step up,” he said.
Chugiak will play this season in the new Chugach Conference, which includes Bartlett, Colony, Juneau-Thunder Mountain and Wasilla. The Mustangs open their season against nonconference foe East Friday at 7 p.m. at Huffer Stadium.
2018 Chugiak football schedule
Aug. 10 East at Chugiak 7 p.m.
Aug. 17 Chugiak at Service 6 p.m.
Aug. 24 Chugiak at West Valley 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 Wasilla at Chugiak 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 Bartlett at Chugiak 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 Chugiak at Juneau/TMHS 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 Eagle River at Chugiak 2 p.m.
Sept. 28 Chugiak at Colony 7 p.m.
2018 Chugiak Mustangs
No. Name Grade
23 Marcus Andrews 10
32 Christian Beesing 10
30 Walton Buck 11
52 Collin Caldwell 11
8 Kody Carlson 11
76 Logan Dennis 11
55 Ryan Flodin 10
58 Torrin Girard 12
20 Bodhi Glauser 11
34 Austin Harr 11
35 Jared Heaston 12
19 Melvin Hickok 12
74 Tobias Horton 12
21 Tyler Huffer 11
3 Grant Jones 10
N/A James Kaae 10
72 Kevin Marshall 12
22 James Mathes 12
24 Logan Mathieu 10
60 Titus Murphy 11
44 Carter Newell 12
1 Brandon O’Fihelly 10
16 Jacob Oshesky 11
4 Thomas Sitz 12
12 Nathan Stoltenberger 12
56 Kasey Taylor 12
10 Jayden Vanaman 12
85 Jeremy Watson 11
9 Quentin Wilson 11
28 Jeremiah Wilson 12
2 Colt Foglesong 11
62 Canyon Moore 10
10 Jared Richards 11
80 Wyatt Rohde 10
18 Devin Smith 11