With the Juneau football team tied atop the Cook Inlet Conference standings, head coach Rich Sjoroos had a message for his players this week:
Don’t get comfortable.
The longtime Juneau coach is determined to keep the Huskies hungry and avoid complacency after dominating their first two opponents by a combined score of 70-14.
“Last year I said we were the hunters, and it’s kind of fun being the hunters. When you get a win, everybody is excited for you because expectations aren’t that high,” he said. “Now you’re the hunted and you’re going to get a team’s best shot and their practices are probably going to be livelier.”
This is why Sjoroos likes to hit the reset button on Mondays because past success doesn’t guarantee it will happen again. He preaches that message over and over at practice.
“I’ve learned that guys can get comfortable,” the coach said. “We spend 80 percent of our season practicing and 20 percent of the season is the games. The games to me are more of an indicator of the stuff you did during the week worked or not.”
Defending CIC champion Juneau is 2-0 entering Week 3 after posting back-to-back beatdowns of Dimond (37-0) and Bartlett (33-14).
The Huskies – a roster compiled of players from Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools – will face the West Eagles (1-1) on Saturday in the capital city.
West won last year’s meeting 49-23 in Anchorage is coming off a 44-34 victory over South in which the Eagles racked up 409 yards of total offense, including 330 rushing yards.
“It’s gonna be a tough one,” Sjoroos said.
With seven starters back on defense, Juneau’s experience and execution have fueled this year’s fast start. The Huskies have allowed only two touchdowns across eight quarters by limiting big plays with key stops.
“The last two weeks I’ve been really impressed with the determination,” Sjoroos said. “East showed us last year in the finals, throwing the ball can get you to those games, but to hoist that trophy you need a strong running game.
“East really took it to us and so we’ve been embracing that mentality of preventing teams from getting their running game going and so far, for two weeks, we’ve been able to do that.”
Tackling is as much about appetite as technique, and the Juneau players have been eating.
Sjoroos likes how the Huskies have embraced the mindset of not wanting to give up first downs. It’s a commitment; first mentally, then physically.
“Having that pride is No. 1,” Sjoroos said. “There are going to be times when you are in an open area one-on-one and you need to get that guy down, and I think our guys have done a great job of that so far.
“I remember watching South back in 2019 when they won state and man, those guys didn’t give an inch. Once they got a hold of you, you were going down. So far, our guys have been hungry to get teams off the field.”
Sjoroos is synonymous with Juneau football success. A three-time Alaska Coach of the Year has been on staff six times when Juneau played for a state title in the ASAA First National Bowl, ranging from 2003 to 2021.
He served as offensive coordinator under head coach Reilly Richey in 2005 when Juneau won its first state championship and under head coach Bill Chalmers in 2007 when Juneau won its second title.
Sjoroos was head coach between 2009 and 2013 before taking time off and coming back in 2019. Over that time he helped develop legendary Juneau quarterbacks Chris Hinkley, Bubba Larson and Phillip Fenumiai.
In 2005, Hinkley passed for 2,273 yards on the season and scored six touchdowns – three passing, three rushing – in a 49-29 win over Palmer in the state title game.
In 2007, Larson was a hoops-player-turned-signal-caller who orchestrated Juneau’s 11-0 state championship season.
In 2009, Fenumiai took over as a freshman and was a four-year starter before going off to play at NCAA Division II Western Oregon, where he accounted for 29 career touchdowns.
Today, Sjoroos’ passing prodigy is senior Jarrell Williams, an all-state defensive back who is also now playing quarterback.
“This year we gave him the keys to the car and he’s doing a great job of extending plays and making good decisions,” Sjoroos said.
The southpaw signal caller has kept the offense hot as its cooked opponents for an average of 35 points in two games.
“First games as a varsity starting quarterback, so I couldn’t be more pleased with his presence on the field and being able to move the sticks and getting some points on the board,” Sjoroos said.
Senior Jamal Johnson was promoted to featured running back and has shined in the spotlight, rushing the ball 36 times for 231 yards and three touchdowns.
“He can definitely get through that first contact,” Sjoroos said. “He’s not a huge running back at 180, but he’s pretty strong and tends to play bigger than that.”
• This article originally appeared online at AlaskaSportsReport.com.