A coach and a football program, both with track records of success, have joined forces.
Ted Riddall, who won small-schools state championships at Nikiski in 2011 and 2013, has taken over at Kenai Central, a program which has six state titles to its credit.
After going 3-5 in his lone year at the helm of the Kards, Davis Lowery has taken the head football job at Buena Park in California.
Last week via text message, Lowery wished the Kardinals success in the future, saying his time with the athletes, parents and community in Kenai was special.
“I also think the type of talent returning fits Coach Riddall’s football philosophy,” Lowery wrote.
Riddall coached at Nikiski from 2007 to 2015, appearing in the small-schools championship game in his last five seasons there. He was in the quarterfinals in the three years prior to that.
“I’m excited, but the excitement definitely comes with knowing what it is going to take,” Riddall said. “Hopefully the kids buy in and the community buys in.”
Riddall teaches ninth-grade health and physical education at Kenai Central. Jeff Baker, a longtime football coach in the area, will be on Riddall’s staff, as will Dustin Akana and Ryan Moss. Riddall will look to add a few C team and junior varsity coaches.
The coach said the first order of business is increasing the numbers in the program, which was down to 16 players on the varsity at times last year. There were about 34 players overall in the program.
“We had a meeting with over 60 kids in the room Wednesday,” Riddall said. “I told them, ‘It’s great that you’re all here. It looks good on paper. It looks good in a room. But it doesn’t matter unless everybody shows up in the fall.’”
Riddall was actually quick to point out the process starts long before fall. It starts now, with students excelling in the classroom and getting in the weight room if they are not competing in other sports.
It is no accident Riddall missed the playoffs at Nikiski his first year and made the quarterfinals the next three years before becoming a fixture in the state final. He invests heavily in the players from the time they hit high school, and even before they hit high school.
“If you just focus on the upperclassmen, you miss out on building something sustainable,” Riddall said. “The whole thought is to pour your heart into the kids and see what comes back four or five years later.
“It worked out in Nikiski. There’s a lot of good athletes walking the building. Hopefully, we can get out 50 or 60 and get three good teams together.”
With his son Rykker to be a senior next season and son Titus to be a sophomore, Riddall said he is committed to the program for the future.
When Riddall got to Nikiski, assistant Scott Anderson already had the Wing-T offense humming. Since Riddall also coached that offense in Washington, he was more than happy to see the Bulldogs run it. The Kardinals also will run the offense.
“It’s just a hard offense to defend,” Riddall said.
The Kardinals are the smallest school in the medium-schools Northern Lights Conference, which also includes Eagle River, Kodiak, Palmer and Soldotna. The Stars of head coach Galen Brantley Jr. have won 11 straight conference titles and are now 27-16 against their chief rivals. Soldotna also is on a state-record 49-game win streak and has won the past five medium-schools state titles.
Kenai’s last state title was in 2011, with the Kards also winning in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2009.
“You can’t get to Soldotna until you get through the teams before them,” Riddall said. “What’s good is they are at the end of the season. We can start slowly and work things out, and by the end of the year just by experience we should be operating at a high level.
“Galen does a great job with his kids and he’s well-established, but we’re not looking past the teams in front of them.”
Riddall is more interested in putting in the work and trying to get better each day.
“A lot of people in the stands aren’t aware that, behind the scenes, there’s a lot of people putting a lot of effort in,” the coach said. “You can’t do it as just one person. You’ll get burned out.
“Over the years, I’ve come up with a formula with what works for not wasting a bunch of time on things that don’t have a bunch of value on the field. I’ve got experience in getting a team ready with a quicker process than it would normally take.”