Kenai Peninsula athletic directors and football coaches came together to release the All-Peninsula Football awards Wednesday.
The coaches voted on the awards after the athletic directors were able to figure out a way to organize the awards.
In a normal year, there are not All-Peninsula awards — just all-conference and all-state awards. That changed this season when there was just one game in which a peninsula school played a nonpeninsula school.
“It’s odd for us because we’re all in different leagues and we all don’t typically play each other,” Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “The coaches felt it was important for the kids to get some kind of recognition for all the work they put in.
“I thought our ADs did a really solid job of putting this together.”
The new coronavirus pandemic had a big impact on all five peninsula teams, which normally get an eight-game regular season. Kenai Central finished its regular season at 1-3, while Seward finished 1-2.
Soldotna, Nikiski and Homer all qualified for the playoffs. Nikiski finished 1-3 overall after it lost to Houston in the Division III quarterfinals.
Before Homer and Soldotna could get playoff games in, the Alaska School Activities Association canceled all fall postseason activities. Homer finished 3-2 overall, while Soldotna finished 4-0 overall.
“We were happy to have at least part of a season,” Homer coach Justin Zank said. “A lot of places were not able to do that. Even here in state, some schools didn’t get to play. We were happy to get most of the regular season. To cap it off by recognizing the dudes was good.”
Brantley Jr. said he felt terrible for his senior class. In the 2019 season, Soldotna had all senior starters, meaning nobody in this year’s class got a lot of time when games were on the line. The coach said the players stuck it out and deserved as much as any class to have a chance to play for a state championship and hoist a trophy.
“This season’s senior class embodies the word perseverance,” Brantley Jr. said.
Zank echoed those comments.
“I’m really proud of how the guys handled the adversity of this season,” he said. “Everything was a battle with COVID, school shutdowns, the season schedule constantly changing and ultimately having to shut down.
“I’m proud of the guys for overcoming that and still showing up to perform at a high level on game days.”
The Stars and Mariners split the major awards. The Offensive Player of the Year went to Homer sophomore quarterback Carter Tennison, the Defensive Player of the Year went to Soldotna senior linebacker Dennis Taylor, the Lineman of the Year went to Soldotna junior Dylan Dahlgren and the Coach of the Year went to Zank.
As a wrestling state finalist as a junior, Taylor showed his athletic ability. Brantley Jr. said Taylor was able to translate that ability into making the first team at linebacker and running back.
“He was all over the field making plays for us — in the alley, interceptions, tackles for loss,” Brantley Jr. said. “In the games he was able to play for us, he proved to be an excellent football player.”
Dahlgren was first team on both lines, playing right guard on offense and strong-side defensive end.
Brantley Jr. said guards have to run and block in space, so many times that takes years of development. He said Dahlgren stepped right in and did a good job replacing the guards SoHi lost. On defense, Brantley Jr. said Dahlgren makes up for not being huge with athleticism and strength.
“The great thing about him is we have him for another year,” he said.
Tennison dazzled as a big body able to hurt opponents with the pass or run.
“I’m definitely excited with his progress this year and the possibility of him growing even more as a quarterback,” Zank said. “This was his first year ever playing the position. As only a sophomore, he was still able to put up the numbers he did.”
Zank said his assistant coaches also deserved recognition for Coach of the Year.
“I’m honored, especially being in with bigger schools like Kenai and of course Soldotna,” Zank said. “With their tradition and prestige and what Galen has done there, it’s an honor to be in there.
“I’m excited about what we’ve done and what we can do in the future.”
Soldotna had three other players make first team both ways. Josh Pieh made it at tight end and defensive line, Noah Harper made it at linebacker and tight end and Spencer Kapp made it on the offensive and defensive lines.
Brantley Jr. said Pieh, a senior, can play college football if he desires. The coach said Pieh has great ball skills, great blocking skills and great abilities as a student.
The coach said Harper, a junior, had to replace Hudson Metcalf, now playing college ball, at outside linebacker. Brantley Jr. said Harper did a great job shutting down the outside and forcing runners back inside.
Kapp, a senior, had to replace Melvin Lloyd, also off playing college ball. Kapp played the three-technique on defense and right tackle on offense.
“We ran behind Spencer all year long,” Brantley Jr. said. “He’s just an awesome young guy. He has high character and he’s going to be missed.”
For Homer, senior Josh Manwiller and junior Sean Pilant went both ways on the line.
Zank said Manwiller was the Peninsula Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, as well as first team on both lines. Manwiller then started this season with a case of mono.
“He started the season not at full strength, so for him to still garner honors both ways is awesome,” Zank said.
Zank also said the sky is the limit for Pilant.
“This guy has not really lifted a weight before,” Zank said. “He’s a freak athlete. If we can get him in the weight room and coached up, he’ll be a big-time problem next year.”
Other two-way, first-team players were Seward quarterback and linebacker Tommy Cronin, Kenai running back and linebacker Tucker Vann, Seward running back and linebacker Elmo Lackey and Seward lineman Marcus Lastimosa.
Brantley Jr. said the peninsula had plenty of great players this season, specifically mentioning Tennison and Vann.
“Tucker Vann had a phenomenal season,” Brantley Jr. said. “He easily could have been O or D Player of the Year. If he had been on our team, he would have been one of our best players.”
All-Peninsula Football Team
Offensive Player of the Year — Carter Tennison, Homer.
Defensive Player of the Year — Dennis Taylor, Soldotna.
Lineman of the Year — Dylan Dahlgren, Soldotna.
Coach of the Year — Justin Zank, Homer.
Quarterback — Carter Tennison, Homer; Brock Wilson, Soldotna; Tommy Cronin, Seward. Running back — River Tomrdle, Kenai; Koleman McCaughey, Nikiski; Tucker Vann, Kenai; Elmo Lackey, Seward; Austin Escott, Soldotna; Dennis Taylor, Soldotna; Josh Heiber, Soldotna. Wide receiver — Sly Gaona, Homer; Kian Smith, Homer. Tight end — Josh Pieh, Soldotna; Noah Harper, Soldotna. Offensive line — Caileb Payne, Nikiski; River Mann, Homer; Joe Whittom, Soldotna; Dylan Dahlgren, Soldotna; Sean Pilant, Homer; Rocky Sherbahn, Kenai; Spencer Kapp, Soldotna; Josh Manwiller, Homer; Quentin Oskolkoff, Nikiski; Marcus Lastimosa, Seward. Utility — Gavin White, Nikiski. Kicker — Trenton O’Reagan, Soldotna.
Linebacker — Josh Manwiller, Homer; Caileb Payne, Nikiski; Tommy Cronin, Seward; Tucker Vann, Kenai; Elmo Lackey, Seward; Riley Graves, Kenai; Noah Harper, Soldotna; Josh Bond, Soldotna. Defensive back — Will Simmons, Soldotna. Defensive line — Sean Pilant, Homer; Marcus Lastimosa, Seward; Dylan Dahlgren, Soldotna; Josh Pieh, Soldotna; Shane Taylor, Kenai; Spencer Kapp, Soldotna.
Homer — Coleman Stephens, OT; Kamdyn Doughty, DE; Nestor Kalugin, ILB. Kenai — Cody McCanna, OL; Aiden Arness, OL; Kukoa Diorec, DB; James Sparks, RB; Levi Good, DB. Soldotna — Harley Johnson, OC; Bryce Zimmer, OT; Wayne Mellon, DE; Kaiden Spies, DT; Brock Wilson, ILB. Nikiski — Charlie Chamberlain, C; Simon Grenier, RB; Dwyght Mullins, OLB; Wyatt Stormer, T. Seward — Collin Mullaly, RB/OLB; Jordan Sewell, C/MB; Dylan Marcus, G/DT.