The list of the all-time winningest football coaches in Alaska is one steeped in history and hard work.
A quick look at the Alaska High School Hall of Fame shows that three of the five names that have won 100 or more football games as coaches are inductees, and the other two are solid locks to go in eventually.
A victory against South Anchorage tonight (6 p.m. at Justin Maile Field) will give Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. his 100th as a coach, all with the Stars, and all in good company.
Since taking over the helm in fall 2007 from current assistant coach Sarge Truesdell, Brantley Jr. has amassed a superlative 99-5 record at SoHi. Fifty one of those wins, of course, have come consecutively, and No. 52 could be tonight.
“It’s surreal to me,” Brantley Jr. said. “Like I’ve said, when I started out, when they asked me to take on the program, it was not something I was thinking about. It couldn’t be further from my thought process.”
Brantley’s ascendance up the winning list has been nothing short of remarkable. The most startling statistic lies in his efficiency.
Former Eielson and North Pole coach Buck Nystrom tops the all-time list at an even 150 wins, which he accomplished in 31 seasons.
Active Palmer coach Rod Christiansen — one of Brantley Jr.’s good friends and well-respected adversaries — currently stands at 148 entering this weekend with over 26 years with the Moose.
Third on the list is former Kenai Central coach Bruce Shearer, who amassed 130 wins in 21 seasons with the Kardinals, East Thunderbirds and Chugiak Mustangs.
SoHi legend Bob Boudreaux finished with 105 wins in 22 seasons, mostly with SoHi but also with Kenai and Service.
Kenai’s Jim Beeson got 103 wins in 19 seasons with the Kardinals, good for fifth on the list.
None have climbed the mountain as fast as Brantley Jr., though, who is just in his 11th season as head coach of the Stars, and is already knocking on the door of win No. 100, which would make him the sixth man to reach triple digits.
When asked about it, Brantley Jr. won’t boast about his success with the SoHi program. Instead, he remarks about the impact the school has had on him.
“I don’t get caught up on those kinds of numbers,” he said. “I know what kind of impact Bob and Jim Beeson and Rod Christianson have had on Alaska football and the young men in their programs.
“They’d much rather discuss the impact they’ve made on those young men. Those are just phenomenal individuals and I’m just a young pup compared to those guys.”
Right now, Brantley Jr. said he and the team have a job to do, and that is beat South.
But, he said, there will be a time to reflect on the accolades and accomplishments.
“Years from now, when I’m retired and done, I’ll be fishing and doing other things, I’ll probably look back and realize what a phenomenal run it’s been,” he said. “Right now, we’re getting by each day.”
Juneau (2-0) at Kenai (1-1), 2 p.m. Saturday
The third week of the prep football season is one the Kardinals are looking forward to, mostly as a way to shake off the memories of last Friday night.
Kenai had difficulties punching the ball into the end zone on five separate red-zone trips against North Pole, coming up short in an 8-6 loss to the Patriots.
Kenai coach Ted Riddall pointed out the positives in an otherwise frustrating game.
“You don’t really want to lose games, but it’s not always what the scoreboard says that is all the evaluation,” Riddall said. “That was one of the hardest-hitting games I’ve watched from start to finish. There was an incredible amounts of effort, we just came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard.”
Rykker Riddall scored Kenai’s only points on a short run in the first half, but was stuffed on the tying two-point attempt. Prior to that, Kenai was stopped on fourth down from the 4-yard line.
Coach Riddall said the loss was not a result of one or two players, but a few moments that the team as a whole failed to execute.
“You don’t win football games when you fumble five times, when you’re inside the 15 (yard line) five times,” he said. “It was just mental execution that we were lacking in those times. I believe we’re regaining it this week.”
“I told them, if we would’ve won the game 8-6, I would be saying the same things to you.”
Tonight’s clash with Juneau-Douglas pits fellow Division II opponents against each other. Juneau is 2-0 this year, with a 27-20 win over Division III opponent Houston in Week 1 and a 32-8 win over Ketchikan last Saturday.
Last time the Kards faced the Crimson Bears was Week 1 of the 2014 season, when Juneau toppled Kenai 28-15 on Juneau’s home field. Prior to that, Juneau got the better of Kenai 42-15 in a state semifinal clash in 2013.
Now, it’s Kenai’s turn to host, and Riddall wants to put on a show.
“We definitely want to go out and do well in front of the fans, showcase what we’ve done and where we’re at,” he said.
Riddall has never coached against the Crimson Bears, but said he has seen Juneau play recently and said Kenai will need to avoid mistakes in order to get its first official win of the year. Kenai was handed a win on a forfeit by Nikiski two weeks ago.
“I see a pretty tenacious bunch of guys that get after other guys,” Riddall said about Juneau.
Riddall said Juneau does not feature as much size as North Pole does, but the Crimson Bears have an uncanny ability to plug up holes on defense and stop the run, something the Kards like to do.
Nikiski (0-2) at Ketchikan (0-2), 6 p.m. Friday
One team will pick up its first win of the season Friday night in Southeast Alaska.
Winless Nikiski is coming off a heartbreaking loss at home, while winless Ketchikan, a Division II school, has lost to Eagle River 55-13, and Juneau 32-8, both on the road this year.
In their 7-6 loss to Monroe last Saturday, the Bulldogs let several opportunities to take the lead slip away in the fourth quarter, including a quarterback sack on Monroe near the goal line that looked to be inches away from being ruled a safety in the final 60 seconds, a score that would’ve put Nikiski in the lead.
Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson said the Bulldogs have no choice but to reload and go fishing for some Kings.
“We watched some film on Monday and talked about execution and mental mistakes,” he said. “To be honest, we talked about Monroe for about an hour Monday, and left it behind us. It’s been all Ketchikan since then.”
Nelson lauded the efforts of senior running back Ian Johnson, who carried Nikiski in the second half against Monroe with 32 carries for 156 yards and scored the Bulldogs’ only points of the day on a short run in the fourth quarter, and sophomore quarterback Michael Eiter, who made big improvements in his first career start on varsity under center.
Nelson said Eiter, who has taken over for Johnson at the quarterback position, has given the team a better chance to win by placing other guys in different positions, namely Johnson in the backfield to get carries.
“(Eiter has) allowed us to put playmakers in other spots,” Nelson said. “We’ve been talking to him about rising to the occasion.”
Nelson also updated the condition of senior Tyler Olson, who was carted off the field late in the game Saturday following a vicious blow to the upper body on a return tackle. Nelson said Olson suffered bruising on his cervical spine around his neck and is currently wearing a neck brace, but will not be playing this weekend and was not certain of his season outlook.
“He seemed to be pretty positive,” Nelson said.
Nelson said with Olson out, he has added junior Justin Harris to the offense to give the Nikiski backfield some depth.
“We’re hoping to score some points this week,” he said.
South (1-1) at Soldotna (2-0), 6 p.m. Friday
The Stars will meet their third consecutive Division I team to open the season with a third straight Friday night showdown, which Brantley Jr. said brings out the energy in his team.
“There’s always some excitement in playing large schools,” he said. “It’s a home game and the kids get to play in front of their own families.”
As daunting as it sounds playing a large Anchorage school that has won three state titles in the 13 years (2006, 2012 and 2014) the school has existed, the Stars may be in for another romp. The Wolverines eked out a slim victory in Week 1 of the season by beating Thunder Mountain 3-0 on a field goal, then only scored a touchdown last week against Chugiak in a 20-7 loss.
Meanwhile, SoHi has scored 85 points on Anchorage teams in the first two contests of the year.
Brantley Jr. said that’s partly due to opposing defenses having to pick their poison. Against West in Week 1, the Eagles focused on containing senior running back Brenner Furlong, a known threat in the SoHi backfield, but the plan allowed sophomore Aaron Faletoi to run rampant on the outside edge with over 100 rush yards and two touchdowns.
Then, last week, Dimond zeroed in on Faletoi, which allowed Furlong to gut the Lynx through the middle with four touchdown runs, three of them in the first quarter.
So who will we see this week making big plays? Brantley Jr. said wait and see.
“You just don’t know which kids are going to be called on to step up and make big plays,” he said. “It has way more to do with their defensive game plan than we do.”
South met with Soldotna in Week 1 of the 2015 season, losing in a thrilling 21-17 ballgame, but Brantley Jr. said both teams are entirely different. The only player on SoHi’s roster that saw meaningful minutes in that game was senior Wendell Tuisuala, who came in after running back Drew Gibbs exited with an injury.
Against South’s spread offense, Brantley Jr. said it will be a challenge to tackle the Wolverines receivers in open space.
“I think they know they have some more dynamic athletes they want to get the ball to in space,” he said. “As coaches, we’ll modify things.”
Monroe Catholic (1-1) at Voznesenka (0-1), 11 a.m. Saturday
Voznesenka officially opens its season Saturday with a nonconference meeting with Monroe Catholic at Homer High School.
Last week, Voz had to forfeit a game against Houston, leaving the Cougars at 0-1 to start the year.
Monroe is coming off a close 7-6 win over Nikiski, thanks to some near misses on Nikiski’s behalf in the second half.
Voz is entering the 2017 season on the heels of a 1-6 campaign last year. The Cougars picked up their lone victory in 2016 in a 12-8 game over Redington, which is now 2-0 to start this season.
Valdez (0-2) at Homer (1-1), 2 p.m. Saturday
At the Division III level, surprise upstart Redington has jumped into the lead of the Peninsula Conference, leaving perennial contenders Nikiski, Homer and Seward scrambling to recover from early losses. The Huskies have opened their season with two wins after having not won a varsity game in their short program history.
After falling to Kodiak in Week 1 of the season, the Mariners righted the ship last week with a resounding 26-14 win over fellow Division III opponent Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow.
Homer rolled out the run game with 288 team rushing yards against Utqiagvik, including 135 by Noah Fisk on just 12 carries. Fisk also scrambled for three touchdowns, while teammate Teddy Croft finished with 71 yards on 13 carries.
Croft handled quarterback duties against Utqiagvik and hit 3 for 6 of his targets for 52 yards and a touchdown pass to Justin Sumption.
Valdez, meanwhile, has a 32-12 loss to Seward in Week 1 and a 45-0 loss to Redington last week, both at home.
Houston (1-1) at Seward (1-1), 5 p.m. Friday
The last time the Houston Hawks and Seward Seahawks met, everything was on the line.
Tonight will be a lot less pressure-packed, but there are still goals to reach. Tonight’s contest is a rematch of last year’s Division III state semifinals, which Houston prevailed in a 44-6 blowout over Seward.
This year, Houston lost 27-20 to Division II opponent Juneau on opening weekend, then picked up a win last week courtesy of a forfeit by Voznesenka.
The Seahawks are coming off 56-0 dud to three-time defending state champions Eielson, after picking up a win over Valdez to open the year.