Eagle River's Kelechi Madubuko catches a touchdown pass between two Houston Hawks defenders during a scrimmage at the Chugiak Stampede on Aug. 6. Madubuko is the team's top returning offensive player.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth
Eagle River is looking to improve upon its 1-7 football season from last year drastically.
Making the playoffs was a season goal for every player asked prior to a practice last week.
"Hopes are up for this year," senior O.J. Hall said. "I think we're gonna do real good."
"We really want it this year," Danton Evilsizer added.
Beating rival Chugiak High also ranks high on the team's list of goals. Enjoying the season is important, too, senior Kelechi Madubuko said.
"We're just looking to have fun, win games and turn Eagle River around," he said.
Madubuko's younger brother, Jachi, said the team wants to change the perception of Wolves football.
"We want to make ourselves known," said Jachi Madubuko, a junior fullback. "We want to be a top competitor."
To achieve that, the Wolves must increase team intensity, he said.
For third-year head coach Kenny Ray, wins and losses don't measure success. Rather, he said the effort put forth each game is what matters.
"Success to me is if you go out on the football field and give 110 percent," Ray said. "We'll just take it one game at a time and see what happens."
Ray's coaching philosophy consists of teaching the four D's dedication, desire, discipline and defense.
"The big deal for me is to play disciplined football," he said.
Eleven players return this season with varsity experience. And every one of them is important to the team's success, Ray said.
"All those 11 guys, they're all pretty key," he said.
Senior Jonathan Gonzalez said the team will rally around a key group of players who have come up through the program.
"We have a good core of guys," Gonzalez said.
While senior leadership will be key, Ray said each of the 29 players on this year's roster will play crucial roles.
"I can say good things about all my kids," he said. "Where do you stop?"
Senior returners Hall, Evilsizer, Kelechi Madubuko and Malcolm Bell set the example for the team, Ray said.
"You expect your seniors to be leaders," he said. "I really look for good things from those guys."
A good year from Bell, who led the team in carries last season, will help the Wolves, Ray said.
Bell rushed for 200 yards with one score last season. He was also third in the Cook Inlet Conference in receiving, hauling in 23 receptions for 331 yards and two touchdowns. But Ray said Bell is capable of much more.
"If he has a good year on the ground, we should be OK," Ray said.
Remaining composed, too, is necessary, Gonzalez said.
"We need to stay stable as a team. Stay high tempo on defense and offense," he said.
Ray said he doesn't want to put the cart before the horse in making predictions for the season.
"We don't know how good we are yet," he said. "We feel good about our practices.
"We've had an excellent camp," Ray added. "We've just had a great attitude."
Ray said he wants to improve from last year and have the team do its best each game.
At least two players O.J. Hall and Kelechi Madubuko have a chance to play football at the collegiate level next season, Ray said.
"I'm really hoping O.J. has a great season and stays healthy," he said. "O.J. can play at the next level, there's not a doubt in my mind."
Kelechi Madubuko and junior Rydell Reinbold are great athletes with good hands, Ray said, noting that Madubuko also has an incredible vertical leap.
"He can jump out of his mind," Ray said.
Though he was almost exclusively a quarterback last season, the elder Madubuko saw lots of time at wide receiver during the recent Chugiak Stampede scrimmages. Lining up wide, he got free for a couple touchdown passes from sophomore Peter Kott, who is also expected to get time under center this season.
Last year, Kelechi Madubuko accounted for 62 percent of the Wolves' offense, gaining 268 rushing yards and 766 passing. He was named to the Cook Inlet Conference's first team at both quarterback and return specialist after two of his returns (one punt, one kickoff) went for touchdowns.
Despite the team's offensive strengths, Madubuko said defense will decide the outcome of games this year, and Coach Ray agreed.
"I'm a big defensive guy. If you play good defense, you'll win football games," Ray said.
And the Wolves are improving on that side of the ball, Bell said.
"We're looking nastier," he said. "We're coming together pretty good overall."
Sam Banks, one of the team's key defenders, said intensity and discipline will determine how far the team goes this season.
"We need to just keep up the tempo," he said. "Everybody's head has to be in the same state. We're all here to go forward."
Contact Mike Nesper at email@example.com or 694-2727
Eagle River Wolves
Head coach: Kenny Ray (3rd season)
Last season: 1-7 overall, 0-7 CIC (missed playoffs)