Chugiak's Dane Prince makes a move during a scrimmage against Wasilla on Aug. 6 at Chugiak. Prince, a junior in his first varsity season, is one of several new faces hoping to make an impact for the Mustangs this season.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth
Chugiak's Kody Trombley battles a Palmer lineman during a scrimmage between the two teams. Trombley, a senior, is Chugiak's top returning lineman and one of the squad's best team leaders according to head coach Duncan Shackelford.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth
Ok, so maybe nobody has forgotten the heroics of 2010 Cook Inlet Conference co-Offensive Player of the Year Greg Ghramm just yet. But this year's Mustangs are certainly eager to get out from the shadow of last year's unquestioned stud.
"Greg was a great player, he really was. But the one thing we made a mistake of last year was kind of relying on him too much," said senior lineman Kody Trombley.
Ghramm ran for 1,451 yards and 18 touchdowns last season for a Chugiak team that went 5-3 overall and secured a playoff berth with a 4-3 Cook Inlet Conference season. But Trombley said the team's reliance on its star caught up to the Mustangs in their 24-7 first-round loss at Juneau-Douglas.
"We believed that Greg's going to do it for us, and that mentality kind of caught us, especially when we went down south," Trombley said.
And it's not just Ghramm who's gone. The only player left from last year's team who scored even a single point for the Mustangs is senior quarterback Ryan Harris and he's likely out for the season with a knee injury.
But instead of dwelling on what they've lost, this year's team prefers to think in terms of what's ahead. And with a healthy infusion of talent from a junior varsity team that lost just one game last year, the young Mustangs believe they're about to hit their stride.
"Now that we don't have anyone to exactly rely on, we all have to do it," said junior running back/quarterback Dane Prince.
Prince is among a large crop of players vying for time in coach Duncan Shackelford's backfield. And that might be for the best.
"We don't have a superstar this year," Shackelford said. "But I'll tell you, we'll have some kids that'll have great years that nobody's going to expect it."
Chugiak is again low on numbers, with just under 30 players likely to suit up for the team's season opener against South at 7 p.m. on Sturday, Aug. 13 at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.
There are a couple familiar names left from last year's squad. Trombley and Steven Puterbaugh are back to hold down a line that also includes sophomore Kenny Pegues, who saw time last year at center. Also back from an injury-shortened season is quarterback Jake Wenzl, who managed the team to victory last season in a game against Dimond despite playing with a broken hand.
"He's a good leader, and he commands respect out there," Shackelford said.
Chugiak was hit by the injury bug before the season began, with both Harris and Jack Pappas going down with possible season-ending injuries. Shackelford said Pappas may still suit up, but that Harris' return is doubtful.
"He's a great kid, we really miss him right now," he said.
All-conference linebacker Wayde Snell is back to lead a defense that also includes returners Garrett Morrison on the line and Justin Schneider and Derek Fitzhugh in the defensive backfield.
Ryan Harris, Logan Johnston, Wenzl and Ghramm all saw time at quarterback last season. This year, Prince and Wenzl will likely rotate to start the year.
Shackelford said he plans to use several different players in the backfield this season, and he doesn't plan to stray far from his traditional run-first approach.
"I have no problem with ball control," he said.
During a series of scrimmages at the Chugiak Stampede on Aug. 6, Schneider and Prince looked to be the team's leading rushers, with Schneider finding the end zone for the first time since his C-team days.
"That felt good," he said.
Shackelford said Chugiak has always been a team that prides itself on defense and running the football.
"We like to think of ourselves as a little blue collar out here," he said.
Though the team's strategy might not be flashy, a couple of its new weapons just might turn out to be worth keeping a close eye on.
Both Prince and wideout Tyler Rohde were among the Chugiak track team's top sprinters in the spring, and Schneider said he believes team speed will be one of Chugiak's strengths.
"We got faster this year," said Schneider.
Also joining the varsity this season will be Deven Ferriss, another speedster who batted leadoff for Chugiak's American Legion team. Schneider also plays Legion ball, and said the large number of multi-sport athletes will help Chugiak compensate for its lack of numbers.
"I think that helps a lot," he said.
A double dose of new blood could also give the Mustangs's linebacking corps a boost with the addition of junior twins Dakota and Justin Benzel, two stars of the junior varsity team last season.
Trombley said he thinks all the new players will serve to create a fresh dynamic within the team.
"We've got some good young guys playing, and I'm really excited about what we're going to be able to accomplish this year," he said.
Shackelford said he'll rely on Trombley to make sure that the team's newer players toe the line discipline-wise.
"He's kind of our heart and soul, he really is," Shackelford said.
Because the team is without any clear-cut star players, Trombley said the Mustangs will have to rely on a team-first approach that could prove to be more successful in the long run.
"All 11 guys are dedicated to making that downfield block or catching that one-handed catch in the end zone or making that extra two or three yards to make a first down," he said.
And Trombley said that if the 2011 Mustangs can go out and execute a tough, run-first style of play, they'll have no trouble establishing their own identity.
"We're going to run the ball and we're going to be good at running the ball. That's Chugiak football," he said. "We pride ourselves in hitting hard and playing tough-nosed football."
Head Coach: Duncan Shackelford (8th season)
Last season: 5-3 overall, 4-3 CIC (lost in first round of playoffs)