Nikiski football has experience
That's how long it's been since the Nikiski football team captured a small-schools state championship.
With perhaps their strongest unit since the title team of 2001, the Bulldogs open 2011 on their home field against Monroe at 6 p.m. today.
"I think we are sitting in a pretty good place to have a pretty good season," coach Ted Riddall said. "We are playing the teams we are used to playing. We are anticipating a good season."
The Bulldogs, one of seven schools remaining in the small-schools classification after a medium-schools division was created during the offseason, return 38 of 41 players from 2010.
Among the leaders are quarterback Colton Anderson, running back Kaden Spurgeon and fullback Stephen Hartley.
Anderson threw for 836 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and Spurgeon led the area in rushing yards (976), carries (163) and touchdowns (15).
Throw in the return of the entire offensive line, and the Bulldogs have all the ingredients for a deep postseason run. The biggest loss was fullback Stephan Krogseng, who rushed for 433 yards in the regular season.
"With all the juniors and seniors, we are starting the season at a pretty high level," Riddall said. "It's a pretty seasoned team."
Riddall said the squad had a good offseason because it took 28 players to an all-state camp in which the athletes received good instruction and quality competition.
Nikiski was strong last season, too, winning the Northland Conference title outright for the first time since 2001.
With the departure of Kenai Central, Soldotna, Skyview and Homer to the new middle-schools classification, Nikiski has a clear path to the postseason.
The Bulldogs' biggest hurdle figures to be Eielson, a traditional small-schools power.
Riddall's squad will run the Wing-T offense, which it has for the past 15 years, and the linemen will play a vital role in the production of the running game.
Lincoln Johnson, Logan Harrison, Trevor Ray and Devan Berry lead the charge.
Riddall said the guards will be particularly important to the offense.
"They will be a key to what we do," the coach said. "They are pulling on just about every play. The offense will only go as far as they take us."
On defense, the Bulldogs will run a base 4-4.
But with the ball-control Wing-T offense, the Bulldogs figure to chew up the clock with long possessions when they are at their best.
Riddall said the team is eager to take the field.
"The goal for us as coaches is to challenge them to get better," Riddall said. "Just keeping the kids focused and getting better at practice."