Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Soldotna's Brenner Furlong squeezes past West's Will Troxel into the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown Friday at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna. The Stars won 49-30.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Soldotna's Brenner Furlong squeezes past West's Will Troxel into the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown Friday at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna. The Stars won 49-30.

SoHi’s Furlong earns Gatorade Player of Year for Alaska in football

Since the first week of the 2012 season, the Soldotna football program has won everything there is to win — almost.

The Stars are on a state-record, 49-game win streak. Soldotna also has won five-straight medium-schools state titles.

But not since 2010 had a player for the Stars won the Gatorade Player of the Year for Alaska in football. Soldotna junior linebacker and fullback Brenner Furlong snapped that drought by earning the award Monday.

“It’s one of those things where it has to line up with whatever good players are out there,” Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “With the individual season Brenner had, combined with our team success, we thought he had a good chance.”

Furlong is the fourth player from Soldotna to win the award, joining Josh Coleman in 1995, Anthony Griglione in 2008 and Robbie Smithwick in 2010.

Others from the Kenai Peninsula to claim the award are Nikiski’s David Holloway in 2001, Kenai Central’s Bill Chimphalee in 2007 and Kenai Central’s AJ Hull in 2011.

It is never easy to snatch the award away from the big schools, but Soldotna defeated big-schools champ East and big-schools runner-up West this season.

“He played really well in our big games against those two large schools,” Brantley Jr. said. “That certainly had an impact.”

In a 49-30 victory over West, Furlong had three touchdowns and 223 yards rushing. In a 22-21 win over East, Furlong scored once and rushed for 135 yards on 28 carries.

He also had 270 yards rushing and five touchdowns in the state title game against Palmer en route to 1,439 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. The medium-schools Offensive Player of the Year also made 37 tackles from his linebacker spot.

“He also volunteers around the community and has a 3.5 GPA,” Brantley Jr. said. “You combine all those things, and he represents the kind of person they want to put their brand on.”

Furlong, who gets to donate $1,000 from Gatorade to a charity of his choice, serves as a youth football coach and volunteers for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Furlong also said he’s proud of the relationship he has with Matthew Martinelli, a team manager for SoHi football. Furlong said he assists getting Martinelli, who was born with cerebral palsy, to and from the field in a wheelchair.

When Brantley Jr. learned Furlong had won the award, he couldn’t help but think back to a picture he had seen of Furlong in eighth grade.

“There’s no way on earth I thought three years ago that we weren’t going to lose a football game and he would be the guy getting Player of the Year,” Brantley Jr. said.

As a freshman, Furlong, now 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, said he was 5-8 and 140, making him one of the smallest in the class.

“I was a little kid who figured out who’s been great and amazing at the sport I love and I asked them what they’d done to be successful,” said Furlong, the son of Shelli Furlong and Jon Furlong, who died in 2013. “I found out what they did to be successful and worked hard at it.”

Furlong said two players he leaned on were Soldotna graduates Drew Gibbs and Trevor Walden.

“I figured out how I can do it is that every morning when I get up to work out, I try and make a subtle improvement,” Furlong said. “Those subtle improvements turned into a Gatorade Player of the Year, which is phenomenal.”

Furlong lifts weights before school every day, and also has a weightlifting class during school. In addition to football, he does wrestling, sprinting in track and field, and powerlifting. Furlong will wrestle at the state meet this weekend.

He said physical activity actually makes his studies easier.

“Once I push my body to the limit, there’s always time for school,” he said.

It is rare for a player to earn Gatorade Player of the Year in football as a junior, but Furlong isn’t about to let that change his formula.

“I believe it puts an extra amount of pressure on me to try and get it again my senior year,” Furlong said. “They don’t give it to anyone. You have to earn it every single year.

“Just because I got it this year, I’ll have to work even harder than I did this year if I want to try and receive the award.”

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