Thunder Mountain High School football head coach Randy Quinto believes in the power of tradition. His team motto: the 2,000-year-old Latin phrase Ubi concordia, ibi victoria or “Where there is unity, there is victory.”
The motto — and the season — represent an opportunity for the Falcons to establish a reputation and program legacy. Having made it back to the medium school playoffs with their first win over crosstown rivals Juneau-Douglas High School, the Falcons are coming off a banner year (4-5 overall, 2-1 in SEC).
They were a stellar run-first team last year, with senior Q’on Bear Clark setting a new Juneau rushing record behind a stout Falcons’ offensive line (Clark topped Brian Felix’ 1,975 yard record with 2,071).
Quinto, last year’s Southeast Conference coach of the year, thinks the taste of victory whetted his team’s appetite.
“One of the neatest things of going to the playoffs was seeing a lot of our kids at the end of the game look out on the field, at the mist and everything, and say ‘I want to get back here.’ So their goals are set beyond our conference, beyond a one-game thing. We are looking to get back to the playoffs and make some noise there,” Quinto said before a practice last week.
To build on that success and lay a foundation for the growing program, Quinto hopes to develop a tradition at TMHS.
“What we’re trying to build here is a program instead of an activity, so the expectation for kids coming up is that’s the way we do it. … We’ll look to continue to be able to build on our success last year,” Quinto said.
With 44 players suiting up for practice, Quinto doesn’t have the numbers for a JV team this year. Without a development team, starting a tradition is easier said than done.
The group will have to make due filling the spots of four graduated offensive linemen and a “three-headed monster” of running backs will have to gobble up yards to replace Clark in the backfield. If all this wasn’t enough, the Falcons contend with a surging and experienced JDHS team to make it back to the postseason. The Falcons’ last three games against North Pole, Ketchikan and JDHS are all conference matchups and will likely determine their playoff fate.
There is no replacing a 2,000 yard rusher, according to Quinto, but the Falcons will remain a power running team in his absence.
“You don’t replace a Q’on Bear Clark. We have several young men right now who will step into that roll but we are going to treat it as a three-headed monster rather than designate one player to that position,” Quinto said. “Look for us to do more of the same with some new wrinkles.”
The Falcons will employ a combination of Shannon Olmstead, Erik Frenette, Roy Tupou and Kyrel Payne in the backfield.
“All their skill sets are different, whereas Q’on kind of did it all, that’s what makes our backfield unique,” Quinto said. “Shannon (Olmstead) is a shifty, speedy guy. Eric (Frenette) once he gets in the open field, he has great moves. Kyrel (Payne) and Roy (Tupou) are both more downhill runners, hard runners who’re going to keep their knees moving.”
Returning this year at quarterback is senior Cale Jenkins, a field general and game manager. Jenkins has played the position for three years but this will be his first year starting every game. “He has a great mind and the physical attributes have gotten better this year. He won’t lose you the game, he controls the ball and is very much like a coach,” Quinto said.
Senior receiver and defensive back Gabe Crawford will look to make his mark this year alongside fellow senior wideout Riley Olson.
“We’re faster, quicker, higher on our feet and ready to play. We have high energy this year,” Crawford said during a break in practice. “I’m looking forward to taking off this year, it’s my senior year so I have to go big, give people what they paid for.”
After graduating four offensive linemen last year, including all-conference guard Jase Lippert, the Falcons will depend on the leadership of Dawson Chilton and Ivan Williams.
“Dawson Chilton has been a steady rock for us but we’re going to need some of our guys who weren’t starters to step up their game,” Quinto said of the offensive line.
With wet weather the norm in Alaska football, a passing game is not Alaska’s “true forte,” and with several conference opponents brandishing a strong running game, Quinto emphasizes stopping the run.
“Given our environmental conditions, you have to stop the run and looking at our schedule, we face several ‘Wing T’ type teams,” Quinto said, referring to the Wing T formation which employs three running backs.
TMHS’ strength is in their linebacking corp, which is anchored by returning all-conference linebacker Garth Tupou, a junior. Alongside Tupou, brothers Mahina and Puna Toutaiolepo, a senior and sophomore, respectively, will bring the pain to backs looking to break into TMHS’ second level.
“Garth and Mahina both are very vocal and we expect them to be leaders. Roy (Tupou, a junior) is another one who is very vocal not only in giving encouragement but in telling guys where they need to go,” Quinto said.
Nikiski and Kenai, whom the Falcons face Aug. 20 and 26, employ a powerful Wing T run game; Soldatna, a medium school powerhouse whom the Falcons would contend with in the postseason, will also challenge TMHS’ run stoppers.
In defending the pass, defensive back Crawford says coordinator Derek Lofstrom has been stressing that the secondary not let anything over their heads and keep the ball in front of them.
“Don’t let anything deep, the coaches are on the cornerbacks and defensive backs about that all the time,” said Crawford, who believes the Falcons’ defensive unit can have success if they just keep their composure mentally and physically.”
Williams stressed tempo as the key to defensive success this year.
“Tempo, tempo, tempo. We have to condition and be really fast, control the field and fly around,” he said. “We have a really fast defense.”
As the Falcons prepare to build on their success, Williams thinks his team will earn a reputation around the conference.
“I hope we have more respect around the league,” he said. “We’re more beautiful this year.”
2016 TMHS football schedule:
Aug. 13, TMHS at JDHS
Aug. 20, TMHS at Nikiski
Aug. 26, TMHS vs. Kenai Central
Sept. 2, TMHS vs. Ketchikan
Sept. 10, TMHS at Lathrop, NC
Sept. 16, TMHS vs. North Pole
Sept. 23, TMHS at Ketchikan
Sept, 30, TMHS vs. JDHS
Two teams from the Southeast Conference (TMHS, JDHS, Ketchikan and North Pole) will make it to the state medium school playoffs to face two teams from the Northern Lights Conference (Soldatna, Kenai, Palmer, Kodiak and Eagle River). Seeding is based on conference records.
2016 TMHS football roster:
Name Position Class:
Sami Sami LB SR
Alex Eldamar OG/LB JR
Alofa Sua FB/LB JR
Andrew Dilley DE SO
Austin Jackson WR/CB SO
Bobby Cox TE/DL JR
Braden Jenkins WR/OLB FR
Brandan Basilon SO
Brian Sangster OG/DL SO
Cale Jenkins QB SR
Caleb Traxler LB/DB SO
Cameron Derick OL/DL FR
Charlie Lewis Manager SO
Dawson Chilton OT/DL SR
Derek Boord C/NG JR
Devinn Domin TE/DE SO
Dominique Maua WR/DB SR
Duane Harwell OG/DL SO
Dylan Chilton C/NG SR
Elissac Lopez LB SO
Erik Frenette RB/DB JR
Gabe Crawford WR/DB SR
Garth Tupou OG/LB SR
Hansel Hinckle WR/DB SO
Ivan Williams OT/DL JR
Jacob Carson WR/DB FR
Jacob Tapia WR/DB JR
Kyrel Payne FB/LB JR
Lars Peterson Manager JR
Mahina Toutaiolepo TE/LB SR
Marcus Villanueva OG/DL SO
Masin Field RB/DB FR
Owen Mendoza QB/WR JR
Puna Toutaiolepo OG/FB/LB SO
Riley Olsen WR/DB SR
Roy Tupou RB/LB/DB JR
Ryan Mayhew WR/DB SR
Shannon Olmstead RB/DB SR
Star Barger Manager JR
Steven Rosales TE/LB JR
Tristan Mead OL/DL SR
William Skinna OL/LB/DL SO
Devin Locke OL/DL JR
Eduardo Ramirez RB/DB SO
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