As school is back in session, football is back in season.
The Juneau Huskies are traveling to Anchorage for their first game of the season against the Dimond Lynx at 2 p.m. Saturday. Last year, the Huskies finished as Cook Inlet Conference champs and runners-up for the state title, that run included two wins against the Lynx.
It’s a new year, which means there are always some adjustments to take into account, but despite the team having lost their quarterback, running back, and wide receiver to graduation, coach Rich Sjoroos said that while they’re missed, it’s not a setback because of players who are ready to step up and fill the void.
“Fortunately, we had a good junior class last year, so all these guys are ready and eager to step in and make some plays,” said Sjoroos. “They got some reps in last year, we had some games where we were able to get some guys in and get a little depth built in for this year and they’re excited, so I’m excited for them and we’ll kind of find out where we’re at Saturday and build from there.”
Though some familiar faces are gone this year, there are plenty of returning standouts as well, as the Huskies welcome back key defensive contributors including Jarrell Williams, Lucas White, Jamal Johnson and Brandon Campbell, who each earned all-state honors last year. Williams will also start at quarterback for the Huskies.
“It’s great to have them back as a group, and we had some other guys that started some games that are back in that defensive mix, so hopefully we tackle well, they’ve definitely been communicating well and it’s a pretty veteran group,” Sjoroos said. “It’s kind of nice going into Week 1 with a lot of guys with a lot of experience under their belt, and the key now is to just get the depth built in behind them so that we’re a strong team throughout the season and not just for a couple games.”
Senior Kaden Villanueva will also be returning to the lineup after being absent since his eighth grade year. Additionally, Sjoroos said what’s been most surprising this year has been how adaptable players have been to shifting into new positions and taking on new roles.
“We’ve got some guys that are maybe in a new role, that’s what’s been kind of neat to see is that maybe we had them as a tight end or somewhere else in the past and now they’re playing a totally different position,” said Sjoroos. “I like the makeup of this team that they’re just willing to play wherever best suits the team and they just take a lot of pride in that Juneau on the jersey and being part of the community and putting on a good effort for everybody in town.”
According to Sjoroos, the main focus going into Saturday’s game is just getting out there and seeing where the team is at after a long offseason.
“Right now everybody’s kind of going in blind, I know up north those teams know a little bit about each other because they’ve seen each other in scrimmages and stuff like that, but we’re kind of the unknown down here in Juneau and we get to kind of pull the curtain off Saturday and see where we fit into the mix,” Sjoroos said. “Nobody wins state Week 1, it’s really just more of a barometer of where you need to go from there.”
Next week, the Huskies will have their home-opener against Bartlett at 3 p.m. Saturday.