Running back Jamal Johnson eyes the end zone from behind the line of scrimmage during a win against Bartlett High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Sports Report: Appetite to tackle challenges has Huskies unbeaten entering Week 3

“Don’t get comfortable.”

  • By Van Williams Alaska Sports Report
  • Thursday, August 25, 2022 2:08pm
  • Sports

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.”

Juneau Huskies head coach Rich Sjoroos and quarterback Jarrell Williams look toward the field during last week’s home win over Bartlett High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Juneau Huskies head coach Rich Sjoroos and quarterback Jarrell Williams look toward the field during last week’s home win over Bartlett High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

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).

[Huskies fight for frantic finish]

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.

Juneau defenders Sage Richards (54) and Jamal Johnson (7) help wrap up a Bartlett ball carrier. Saturday, the Huskies will host the West Anchorage High School Eagles. Varsity kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Juneau defenders Sage Richards (54) and Jamal Johnson (7) help wrap up a Bartlett ball carrier. Saturday, the Huskies will host the West Anchorage High School Eagles. Varsity kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

“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

More in Sports

Juneau's high school football team finished the regular season 8-0 (7-0 in conference) after hanging on to win a 19-14 nail-biter against Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Huskies finish regular season undefeated

Huskies hang on — but not without last-minute drama.

Wendy Vuille poses with skater Brendyn Hatfield at the Arizona Adult Skating Camp. (Courtesy Photo / Wendy Vuille)
Better skate than never: Over a decade of hard work nets Juneau woman rare honor

Over a decade of hard work nets Juneau woman rare honor

A total of 145 boys from 10 Southeast Alaska high schools dash out from the starting line at the Capital City Invite at A Káx Yaa Andagan Yé (Sandy Beach) on Saturday morning. The 5K race for boys’ and girls’ teams was the region’s largest cross-country race of the season, and final regular season competition before the regional championship in Sitka this weekend. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Many merry after massive muddy meet

Juneau’s cross-country runners and coaches in sunny spirits about chances going into championships

TMHS’ Ashlyn Gates and JDHS’ Mila Hargrave both reach for the ball during the second set of a cross-town volleyball match held at JDHS on Friday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
TMHS wins two cross-town matches

TMHS wins two cross-town matches

A Lucas White (21) block buys Jarrell Williams (1) more room to work during a 49-32 win against Service High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Juneau cooks up a conference title

Huskies are back-to-back Cook Inlet Conference champs after lopsided win.

Senior Moana Tuviafale of Thunder Mountain High School (far right) was named to the all-tournament team at this year’s Spiktacular tournament this weekend at West Anchorage High School. From left to right, other players in photo are Hayden Inman of Chugiak High School, Liyah Pilgrim of Colony High School and Marija Wunnicke of South High School. (Courtesy Photo / Julie Herman)
TMHS takes 3rd at Spiketacular tournament

The Falcons are ranked 3rd in the state

Jarrell Williams, who scored five TDs against South Anchorage to help Juneau maintain an undefeated record, looks over the line of scrimmage in an Aug. 27 game against West Anchorage High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
5 TD’s power Juneau’s 6th win

Juneau football still undefeated on the season.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire
From left to right, Liz Perry, president and CEO of Travel Juneau; SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium project manager Sierra Gadaire; High Cadence Triathlon team coach Jamie Bursell; and City and Borough of Juneau Finance Director Jeff Rogers met at Juneau Moose Family Center on Thursday afternoon to share a recap of the Ironman Alaska to a full crowd of members of the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce who joined in at the luncheon.
2023 vision: Officials look at the future of Ironman Alaska

They reviewed what went well and what could change for next time.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire
Two-time national champion and Olympic bronze medalist Gracie Gold talks with the Juneau Empire ahead of her upcoming free speech at Juneau-Douglas High School on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.
Olympian takes time to talk mental health

Bronze medalist, 2-time champ to speak Saturday.

Jarrell Williams (1) and Thomas Baxter (84) celebrate a big play on defense early in Juneau's win over the visiting West Valley Rams. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Huskies get the Rams’ goat under Friday night lights

Juneau remains undefeated on the season.

FILE - Lance Mackey sits with his lead dogs Larry, right, and Maple after crossing the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on March 18, 2009, in Nome, Alaska, to win his third Iditarod in a row. Mackey, a four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winner and one of mushing’s most colorful and accomplished champions who also suffered from health and drug issues, died Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, his father and kennel announced on Facebook. He was 52. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)
Cancer claims 4-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey

Officials with the world’s most famous sled dog race said Iditarod Nation was in mourning.