Juneau Huskies football coach Rich Sjoroos speaks to his team after practice at Thunder Mountain High School on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Huskies football coach Rich Sjoroos speaks to his team after practice at Thunder Mountain High School on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

New football coach relishing return to sidelines

Sjoroos makes Huskies home coaching debut Saturday

The fall was the most difficult.

That was the toughest time to endure for Juneau Huskies coach Rich Sjoroos, who in 2015 took his first break from football in over two decades.

He filled his time with running long-distance races among other things. It was fun, but it still didn’t have the enjoyment of coaching a football team, which he had done for 13 years at Juneau-Douglas High School.

By that time, the 49-year-old food distribution manager had coached the sport longer than he had played it as a kid growing up in Juneau.

Football’s always been his favorite sport to coach.

“I just love the strategy of football, and to me it’s the best team sport because every single kid has a role that matters every second of the game,” Sjoroos said. “In baseball, you could have a pitcher that dominates the game and other players don’t get involved, and basketball you could have a player that’s just a great shooter and dribbler and just take over the game. But in football, you just can’t really find that. You need guys to block, you need guys to throw, catch, tackle. Even the holder has won games for us.”

Sjoroos coaches in his first prep home game in six years this Saturday, when the Huskies play Antelope Union High School at 7 p.m. at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. The visiting Rams hail from Wellton, Arizona, a small town in the southwest corner of the state.

“It’s going to be really something,” Sjoroos said. “It was great to coach last week just being back on the sideline but being at home for that home opener is going to just have a whole different feel to it. I hope Juneau comes out and watches these guys.”

Sjoroos first joined the Crimson Bears football coaching staff in 2001.

The Crimson Bears appeared in the state championship game five times and semifinals nine times from 2003-2013, including once, in 2013, with Sjoroos as head coach. JDHS lost the state final that year 56-49 to Soldotna. It was a bitter ending to both Sjoroos’ most successful season as a head coach and his time guiding the Crimson Bears.

The school district hired Kevin Hamrick to be the team’s head coach in 2014. Sjoroos said he was told by Hamrick (who had priority for the job as a school district employee) he could stay on for one more year.

“To the credit of a lot of people in Juneau I had a huge support network that helped me transition through that,” Sjoroos said. “I couldn’t have done it on my own.”

One of those people was Vince Yadao, who in 2016 invited Sjoroos to become the assistant coach of his Juneau Youth Football League Senior League team. That team went undefeated, and Sjoroos helped formed a team that season that won the National Youth Football Championship in Las Vegas.

“I know he’s offensive minded, I know he works well with kids, he knows how to develop winning and successful teams, and it was just fortunate for me to have him in that capacity,” Yadao said.

Sjoroos would go on to coach his own JYFL team the next two seasons before his return to high school.

“When I coached the first time I never looked over my shoulder at what was behind me, I always focused on what was in front of me and I know I’m doing it just the same this go around as well,” Sjoroos said.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.

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