Nikiski boys football — whether it be the American or international kind — lost a bunch of experience when the school year came to a close this fall.
Both Nikiski football coach Ted Riddall, whose first year as head coach was 2007, and Nikiski soccer coach Jim Coburn, head coach since 1998, have left their posts.
Dan Carstens, principal of Nikiski, also will have a different athletic director because Dylan Hooper is leaving that position after five years to teach math and science classes.
Carstens said Paul Nelson, a 1999 graduate of Colony High School who has been an assistant for the Knights the past three years, will take over as football coach and athletic director. Nobody has been hired to take over for Coburn yet.
Riddall directed the Bulldogs to the last five small-schools state championship games and made the quarterfinals the three years before that.
He won championships in 2011 and 2013, adding to the program’s small-schools titles in 2000 and 2001.
He will teach but not coach at Kenai Central starting in the fall. Riddall declined an interview request, directing questions to administration.
“With Ted, he’s just choosing to go in a different direction,” Carstens said. “He’s got stuff he wants to focus on with his family, so he’s decided to move on.
“Everybody makes those choices and we’ll definitely miss him. He had a great run while he was here.”
Carstens had three sons play for Riddall — 2014 graduate Seth, 2015 graduate Ben and 2016 graduate Nathan.
“I don’t know if there was an offseason for him,” Carstens said of Riddall. “He was always building things, making the field look better.”
Carstens said an example came last season, when Nikiski hosted a playoff game against Barrow and Riddall made sure the field was painted with Nikiski in one end zone, Barrow in the other, and all with a checkerboard pattern to boot.
“The players worked hard for him, played hard for him and really bought into that program,” Carstens said. “Coach always made sure they looked good.”
Carstens said a fundraiser called the Toilet Paper Caper that Riddall did would often raise $5,000 in one night as players went around selling toilet paper in the community.
Nelson said he has heard plenty of great things about the community and the players and is looking forward to the challenge of taking over the program.
“It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but I know I’ll have a great community supporting me,” he said.
The football staff will totally turn over, with the exception of longtime volunteer assistant Tim Johnson.
That means Scott Anderson, the maestro of the Wing-T offense and longtime offensive coordinator, will no longer be bedeviling defensive coordinators.
Anderson will still be the head girls basketball coach.
Nelson said he will still run the Wing-T this season, and Anderson has agreed to have a discussion of the offense with the new coach.
Similarly, Hooper has offered him advice on the AD job.
“Everybody there wants to see me succeed,” he said. “I’m not worried about the scope of the job. I think I have a good support system in place.”
Nelson, who will also teach physical education and weightlifting at Nikiski, said he also is excited to work with the Speed and Strength Training curriculum used at central Kenai Peninsula schools.
Finally, Nelson said he is looking forward working in Nikiski.
“One of the reasons I applied for a peninsula job is it is a smaller community,” Nelson said. “The Valley has had a population explosion that I’m not in favor of.
“I liked it in high school when it was a smaller community. I’m excited to go back and be a part of that again.”
Coburn has been a part of the central peninsula community since 1976. He retired after this past school year as head custodian at Nikiski after almost 32 years with the school district.
After starting by coaching soccer at the elementary school and Boys and Girls Club levels, Coburn moved up to middle school and then became the head boys coach at Nikiski in 1998 — the first year soccer was a varsity program on the peninsula.
He said he’s seen a big change in the game, from the turf fields now at Homer, Kenai and Soldotna to the skill of the players.
“Back then, a lot of exchange students came here and did really well just because they had a background in soccer,” Coburn said. “Even though there’s a few exchange students playing, they don’t have the impact they’ve had in the past.”
Despite Nikiski’s relatively small size, lack of a in-town comp program and the lack of a turf field, Coburn was able to keep the Bulldogs competitive, missing out on the Northern Lights Conference tournament just four times. One year, his squad even took the NLC Southern Division.
But Coburn said those memories on the field pale in comparison to meeting a former player having success in life, as he said he did last weekend at the Kenai River Festival.
“It’s more about seeing the kids that stop playing soccer go on in life,” Coburn said. “Seeing them become family men and dads that encourage their kids to play and stay involved.”
Coburn has become a huge fan of the game and is building a house in Kenai, so he said area soccer fans can expect to see him at games.
Carstens, who had all three sons play for Coburn in at least middle school, said Coburn will be difficult to replace on the field and in the hallways.
“He just had an awesome relationship with the kids,” Carstens said. “He got a lot of kids out for soccer that really didn’t do anything else. He kept a lot of kids active.”
Carstens also said he knew that if he asked Coburn to take an at-risk kid as an aide, the custodian would accept.
“He’s one of those guys that’s really difficult to replace because of what he did for kids, staff and his knowledge of the community,” Carstens said. “He’d give you the shirt off his back if he knew it helped you.
“He’s a pretty special guy.”
Head coaching, athletic director
changes on Kenai Peninsula
Kenai Central football — John Marquez
(Davis Lowery will replace)
Kenai Central baseball — John Kennedy
Nikiski athletic director — Dylan Hooper
(Paul Nelson will replace)
Nikiski football — Ted Riddall (Paul Nelson
Nikiski soccer — Jim Coburn
Seward swimming — Emilee Sawyer
Homer volleyball — Pam Rugloski
Homer hockey — John Carlin