Players collide during the second quarter of the Juneau Huskies’ season opener against East Anchorage Saturday afternoon at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Players collide during the second quarter of the Juneau Huskies’ season opener against East Anchorage Saturday afternoon at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Huskies return with fresh faces, defeated in the season opener

Head coach optimistic for the season despite major turnover.

Juneau football is back — with a lot of new faces.

Heavy rain and wind greeted the Huskies Saturday afternoon for the team’s season opener against East Anchorage at Adair-Kennedy Field.

As the players fought the weather and one another, both teams held firm for the first half of the game, finishing 6-6 despite a close call at the 1-yard line on the final play by the Huskies as the seconds ticked down. However, as the second half rolled in East kicked up gears to wear out the Huskies, racking up points to end the game 21-6.

Despite the loss and the tough weather, Husky head coach Rich Sjoroos said he was pleased with the effort put in by the young team.

“I’ve coached for 30 years, and I think that was the wettest game I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It definitely made for some challenging football, but we have such a new group that I was really pleased with the effort, I really was. I think we can execute better and we will as we move forward.”

The Huskies face a major turnover this year compared to its state runner-up team in 2022. The team said goodbye to both all-state and all-conference skill position players and linemen, including quarterback Jarrell Williams and running back Jamal Johnson, retaining only five returning players.

Sjoroos said in addition to those few returning varsity athletes, players from last year’s junior varsity team have been able to fill some of those critical positions, along with the potential for new faces to step up as well.

“These kids are moving up and have some high school experience under their belts, and are combined with only a handful of kids leftover from last year’s team,” he said. “We’re filtering in three or four new kids that have never really played football before. They’re good athletes, but it’s just gonna take them a little bit to understand football versus other sports that they played and take a little time to get the chemistry together and everything.”

Sjoroos said the team showed its high potential in the first half of the game with its ability to get the lead and stay tied going into the second. However, he said East was able to secure its win using some of its veteran players’ size and strength in the second half to wear down the Huskies.

“The kids for week one really came out, you know, firing and doing everything they could,” he said. “You always want to come out on top on the scoreboard, but at the same time they gave us some really good info to build on for week two and for the rest of the season.”

He said some of the star players of the game were junior Hayden Aube, who was pulled up to be the leading running back on the varsity this season after serving as the starter on junior varsity last year, and Jayden Johnson, a junior wide receiver and ​​defensive back who “was just great on defense.”

Players protect Jayden Johnson, a junior wide receiver and ​​defensive back, as he runs with the ball during the first quarter of the Juneau Huskies’ season opener against East Anchorage Saturday afternoon at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Players protect Jayden Johnson, a junior wide receiver and ​​defensive back, as he runs with the ball during the first quarter of the Juneau Huskies’ season opener against East Anchorage Saturday afternoon at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

The Huskies are set to play another home game next Saturday against the Dimond Lynx at 3 p.m. Sjoroos said he’s excited to work this coming week to prepare for what he anticipates to be tough competition

“I just think it was so important for us to finally just get a game, and now we can kind of get into our system and routine, and see where we can build from here,” he said.

Juneau Huskies 2023 schedule

(Note: all times are varsity games; junior varsity games start three hours earlier)

Aug. 19: Dimond, 3 p.m.

Aug. 26: @Bartlett, 2 p.m.

Sept. 2: @Service, 2 p.m.

Sept. 8: @Auburn (Washington), 7 p.m.

Sept. 15: Colony, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23: @West Anchorage, 2 p.m.

Sept. 30: South Anchorage, 3 p.m.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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