West's J'Vonte Buster returns a kick during the 2010 season. Buster is one of 19 seniors who have since graduated from coach Tim Davis' 11-0 state championship Eagles team.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth
Can West recover from massive graduation losses to repeat their undefeated antics or will another challenger rise to the top of the Cook Inlet Conference? Does Service have another trip left in them? Will Bartlett and preseason No. 1 South return to their former glory? Can a new coach spark East to a rebound season like Dimond's did a year ago?
These and other questions will begin to be answered starting today, when Service kicks off the CIC season with a non-conference game in Hawaii. But if there's anything the league's head coaches agree on, it's that the season will likely be another wild one, with playoff berths certain to come down to the final weekend of the season.
Here's a quick look at how the teams stack up heading into the season opener:
Head coach: Tim Davis
Last season: 11-0, 7-0 CIC (Won state championship)
Key losses: J'Vonte Buster, WR; Will Sharp, WR; Dahmir Bell, WR; Lyndon Tulimasaelii, DE; Jacob Eisses, DE
Head coach Tim Davis hasn't had much to complain about during his first two seasons guiding the Eagles. Back-to-back CIC championships and an undefeated state title run last season will do that.
But Davis knows football is a cyclical sport, and after graduating many of his top players, the third-year man knows his squad won't have an easy road to another state championship or a CIC three-peat, for that matter.
"We know what we're up against and we know we're going to get everybody's 'A' game," Davis said.
Davis said his team graduated "pretty much the entire defense" from last season, as well as talented receivers J'Vonte Buster, Will Sharp and Dahmir Bell, who combined for 77 catches, more than 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
"This year our receiving corps is 80 percent juniors," Davis said.
The Eagles will have junior quarterback Connor Feckley back this season. As a sophomore, Feckley was a first-team All-CIC selection and led the conference in passing. Also back is Lincoln Tulimasaelii, a junior running back/linebacker who Davis said is the team's best all-around player. He's also the younger brother of Wesley and Lyndon Tulimasaelii, who were both key members of last year's team.
"It's a very talented football family," he said.
Davis said his team's numbers are down. He expects about 28 players to suit up for the varsity's opener against North Pole on Aug. 13 at AFS, but said that doesn't mean the team won't be gunning for another state title this time around.
"It's definitely going to be a big challenge this year, but I still think we can win," he said.
Davis said he thinks Bartlett and Service look to be the CIC favorites going into opening weekend, but he's not counting out any of the conference's other seven teams.
"I think it's going to be an awesome year to watch football," he said.
Head coach: Jason Caldarera
Last season: 9-2 overall, 6-1 CIC (Lost in state title game)
Key returners: Amu Aukusitino, QB;
Key losses: Paul Pedro, G; Michael McCrae, RB; LaMichael Fernandez, WR; Kahlil Bolling, DB
Service won't be getting much sympathy this season.
The Cougars open their season today (Aug. 11) with a road game at Leilehua High in Wahiawa, Hawaii in the nation's first high school football game of the 2011 season. The event will be broadcast on GCI Channel 1.
Whether the Cougars' long road trip ends with a berth in the state title game remains to be seen. But according to West coach Tim Davis, whose squad defeated Service 6-0 in last year's title game, the Cougars should be in the mix.
"Service always seems so talented," said Davis, who coached many of Service's current seniors when they were freshmen during his final season as a Cougars assistant.
The Cougars lost two of the CIC's most dominant performers in last year's co-Lineman of the Year Paul Pedro and co-Offensive Player of the Year Michael McCrae.
But Davis said the Cougars can't be counted out with Viliamu Aukusitino last season's CIC Utilitiy Player of the Year still in the mix.
"He's a great player," Davis said.
Senior Stephen Ellis, an all-CIC defensive tackle last season, is also back to anchor the Service line. Ellis was also the Class 4A state champion in wrestling at 189 pounds.
Head coach: Chris Borst
Last season: 4-5 overall, 3-4 CIC (lost in state quarterfinals)
With so many talented players gone from last season, the second-year Dimond coach said he thinks this year could be as wide-open as the CIC race has ever been.
"Everybody lost key players," he said. "Maybe they've filled them, maybe they haven't."
Borst, who guided the Lynx to a 4-3 CIC record and a state playoff appearance last season, said Dimond should be right in the mix again this year.
"I think we have some real potential," he said.
Bolstering Borst's confidence this season is the addition of 6-foot-8 Ryden Hines, a first-team all-state basketball player last season who will play quarterback.
"Our season will probably go as his season goes," Borst said of his towering signal-caller.
Borst also has experience in all-state linebacker Nathan Stevens, and cornerback Armani Tufaga, who will also share the duties at running back.
Dimond's biggest loss was Dillon Afusia, who was an all-CIC performer on both sides of the ball.
"Losing him hurt," Borst said.
Still, everyone lost somebody, and Borst said he's excited for what he believes should be a very competitive year.
"The last two seasons have brought some parity to the league," he said.
Bartlett Golden Bears
Head coach: John Jessen
Last season: 4-4 overall, 3-4 CIC (missed playoffs)
Key returners: Trenton Anthony, RB; Keenan Honore, RB; Henry Loia, C; Mark Cox, FB; Richie Predmore, WR; Demitrice Williams, RB; Andre Berry, RB
Key losses: Chavous Levao, DT; Brenton Gunn, RB
Key newcomers: Treshawn King-Dunbar, QB; Jonas Silva, QB/LB
The 2009 state champion Golden Bears took a step back last season, going 3-4 in the Cook Inlet Conference and missing the playoffs. This year, they could be the team to beat.
"I think we're looking good," said head coach John Jessen. "We're kinda like we were two years ago, we have a lot of experience."
Boy, do they.
With the graduation of co-Offensive Players of the Year Michael McCrae of Service and Greg Ghramm of Chugiak, Bartlett's talented trio of Trent Anthony, Mark Cox and Keenan Honore are the top three returning rushers in the CIC.
"We have our whole backfield back," Jessen said.
Massive All-CIC center Henry Loia (6-0, 330) also returns to anchor the offensive line, and Jessen said his all-senior defensive backfield of Andre Berry, Demetrice Williams and Richie Predmore is also loaded.
With one of the largest rosters in the conference, Jessen said his squad will also have the advantage of being able to throw fresh bodies on the field all game long.
"We're platooning at some positions, just because we can," he said.
As if Bartlett's embarrassment of riches weren't enough, the Golden Bears also landed transfer Jonah Silva, who was an honorable mention All-Railbelt selection last season, and Treshawn King-Dunbar, a star basketball player for Bartlett who'll likely play quarterback.
"If I had to pick a team I'd want to coach, I'd pick ours honestly," Jessen said.
However, he also said there's a lot of parity in the conference, and isn't ready to declare a favorite until he's seen everyone in action.
"I think everybody's capable of being good," he said.
Head coach: John Lewis
Last season: 3-5 overall, 3-4 CIC (missed playoffs)
Key returners: Zach Lujan, QB; Michael Wilson, DB; Dante Williams, DB; Gabe Steele, RB
Things haven't been the same around South Anchorage lately.
After reaching the state playoffs in every year between 2005-09, the South Wolverines watched last year's festivities from the stands. Making matters worse, fellow Southsiders Dimond and Service both reached the big dance.
Coach John Lewis did not enjoy the experience.
"I think the weakness in our team is we forgot our history," Lewis said of the 2010 Wolverines, which went 3-5 overall and finished sixth in the eight-team league.
Lewis said he's not naming team captains this season in an effort to foster team unity. He's also trying to instill greater football knowledge into his players, and had each bring a pencil and notepad to watch the Chugiak Stampede scrimmage session last weekend.
"We need to get smarter," he said.
Lewis is happy with the team he's assembled this season. There are 29 seniors on the squad, including running back Gabe Steele and defensive back Michael Williams. Lewis said he's also got a large crop of juniors who saw meaningful minutes at the varsity level, including starting quarterback Zach Lujan.
"We're returning a number of kids from last year," he said.
Lewis said the key to his team's success this season will be its ability to return to the type of football that brough five consecutive state berths and a 2006 state title to South.
"Though it's a young history, we have a history of playing top-notch defense and running the ball," he said. "We didn't do that last year."
Heading into the team's season opener against Chugiak, Lewis said he thinks West is the team to beat for now.
"They should be No. 1 until somebody beats them," he said.
Head coach: Jeff Trotter
Last season: 2-6 overall, 2-5 CIC (missed playoffs)
Key returners: Brody DeLoria, FB; Diego Sua'teo, RB; Jared Laws, WR; Tyler Rowles, DB; Connor DeKalb, LB
Key losses: Emmanuel Canady, WR; Coyan Grant, RB
Key newcomer: Jeff Trotter, Head coach
School is in session at East High, where first-year head coach Jeff Trotter is starting from scratch with new offensive and defensive schemes.
"We've crammed a lot at 'em, but they've been doing pretty good," Trotter said after the first week of practice.
Trotter coached at South for the past seven years before taking over for Nick Middleton at East.
If there's one advantage to coming into a new program this season, Trotter said, it's that the league seems to be such a toss-up entering the season.
"I think a lot of coaches don't know what they have," he said.
East went just 2-6 last season and was seventh in the CIC. But the team does have talent to build around in several returning offensive weapons led by first-team all-CIC fullback Brody Deloria. Also back this season are all-CIC defensive back Tyler Rowles, starting tight end Connor DeKalb, receiver Jared Laws and running back Diego Sua'teo.
The exciting thing about starting out fresh at East, Trotter said, is that he gets to find out real quick how his new troops are catching on.
"We just gotta get on the field and see how it goes," he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at email@example.com
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, August 10, 2011.