Eagle River football starts off its season against Soldotna one of the state's dominant Small schools teams of the past decade. The Wolves travel to the Kenai Peninsula to take on last year's Northern Lights Conference champions Saturday at 3 p.m. at Soldotna's Justin Maile Field.
"That's gonna be a (heck) of a test," head coach Kenny Ray said. "They are a good football program."
The Stars went undefeated last year en route to their fourth Small schools state championship in five years. The Stars recently moved to the newly-created "Medium schools" football division. During their 11-year run in Small schools, Soldotna won four state titles and played for three more. Only Kenai Central (five), won more championships during that span.
Senior O.J. Hall said Eagle River needs to keep mistakes to a minimum against the Peninsula juggernaut.
"It will really show if we can compete this year," he said.
Running back Malcolm Bell said the team is looking forward to the challenge.
"It will be a hard game," Bell said. "We're looking to see how we stand up against them."
Making good blocks and not missing tackles will be important for success, Bell added.
Gaining a quick lead, too, will be key, senior Sam Banks said.
For Soldotna, shutting down Bell and quarterback/receiver Kelechi Madubuko will be a challenge, Stars head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. It won't be possible to completely stop Eagle River's attack, he said. said, but preventing big plays will be key.
"We're gonna have to get a lot of people to the football," he said. "We expect an extremely difficult ball game. They're extremely well coached."
Junior Jachi Madubuko wants more than just a win. His sights are set on a convincing victory.
"We're looking to dominate," he said. "We're here ready to start taking names."
The game will also give the Wolves their first chance to see how their new spread offense will work said back Danton Evilsizer.
"It will definitely test our new offense," Danton Evilsizer said. "SoHi is really intense."
And, Evilsizer added, the Stars have a reputation for always showing up ready to play.
"They hit hard," he said.
Eagle River will need to match that intensity and remain fired up the entire game, said sophomore Peter Kott.
"We need to do exactly what we do at practice and we'll be fine," he said.
With the team feeling comfortable about its offense, the defense will be instrumental against SoHi, said Banks, who'll start at middle linebacker for the second straight year.
"We can grab that win mostly by the defense," Banks said.
The team must treat this game like they're facing rival Chugiak High, said Jonathan Gonzalez.
To combat SoHi's Wing-T offense, which uses several running backs and fakes to disguise the ball carrier, fundamental tackling will be essential, Ray said.
"You better tackle everyone," he said.
The team is confident that Week 1 will show its turnaround from last year's 1-7 campaign.
"I think our first game will show how much we've improved," Kott said.
Kelechi Madubuko agreed, and said the game will go a long way toward shaping the 2011 season.
"It's a good measuring stick for us," he said. "Win or lose, we will see where we need to improve."
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, August 10, 2011.