The offensive line in football often gets overshadowed by skill position players that race into the end zone. But if it were not for the big guys up front, there would be less celebratory scoring dances done by running backs.
If second-year head coach Bryan Ellsworth has it his way, Kodiak’s linemen will be the ones doing the dancing this year.
“Not many people like to watch the line of scrimmage, but hopefully those guys live up to what their capabilities are — they should be pretty good,” Ellsworth said.
With an all-new backfield in Ellsworth’s single-wing attack, the team will lean on the experience in the trenches for the 2019 season that begins Saturday at Dimond in Anchorage. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.
Kodiak’s not known for having above-average size on the line, but this season is different. Ellsworth said the line of Gideon Craig, Josh Miguel, Dylan Zurflueh, Andy Francisco, Brad Lagus and Jess Nono average 250 pounds. Nono is the only new addition to the line; the rest know the intricacies of an offense that predominantly runs the ball.
“The line has to be intelligent, physical, and they have to run. There is a lot on the line,” Ellsworth said. “They are all pretty smart, experienced, strong and quick. That should bode well.”
The single-wing — an ancient offense that was a hit in the 1940s — produced Kodiak’s first 1,000-yard rusher last season in Micah Bartel. The speedster racked up a school-record 1,115 yards and 14 touchdowns — he accounted for more than half of the Bears’ rushing total last season, according to Ellsworth.
Bartel — a lineman before last season — is now suiting up for Concordia University of Wisconsin, which means Ellsworth must again discover another diamond.
“Micah had unique talents,” the coach said. “You try to find another person who is going to give you positive results and they are going to have to grow into that.”
Ellsworth has four promising backs at his disposal in Edgee Ocampo, Vince Mangrobang, Tito Sabangan and Igan Galindez. Josh Doctolero will be the team’s wideout.
Sabangan and Galindez had limited touches last season behind Bartel, Kaleb Finley, AJ Barton and Corbit Brewer, who are all gone this season.
Ellsworth said his collection of skill players is speedy and shiftier than last year’s group.
“I don’t think this offense is built around a superstar; last year one emerged, and it was awesome,” Ellsworth said. “It is really designed to be threatening by three different players and mix in a fourth every now and then.”
The line will also be the centerpiece of Kodiak’s defensive unit that will be led by coordinator Kalen Pedersen. The coaching staff hopes to be more aggressive on defense this season.
“We want to be able to bring pressure. We want to play downhill. We don’t want to be reading and reacting, trying to diagnose things on the fly,” Ellsworth said.
In the first season under Ellsworth, Kodiak’s offense averaged 30 points per game and finished with a 3-4 record. Treading was rough for Kodiak in the Northern Lights Conference where it was outscored 165-53 in losses to Soldotna, Eagle River and Kenai. Kodiak was 3-1 in nonconference games, outscoring opponents by an average of 17 points.
Since 2015, Kodiak is 2-12 in the NLC, with its last win coming against Kenai in 2017. The Bears’ previous playoff appearance was in 2013 and their last postseason win was in 2009.
Ellsworth — the sixth head coach since Kodiak became a varsity team in 2003 — is hoping he can change the culture of the program.
“When you haven’t had true success for a while, my fear is that it starts to become the norm,” he said. “My goal is not to allow that to become the norm — promote the belief that there are no limits on what we can do.”
Kodiak gets tested early with three straight games against Division I schools — at Dimond (Saturday), and home to Chugiak (Aug. 23) and Wasilla (Aug. 24). The Bears then play at Division II power Palmer (Sept. 6) before encountering conference games against Eagle River (Sept. 13), Soldotna (Sept. 21) and Kenai (Sept. 27).
“We are going to play our hand the best we can and see where the cards fall,” Ellsworth said. “I’m going to be proud when we play our best, and if that is not good enough, we have nothing to be ashamed of or to hang our head for.”
Thirty-one of Kodiak’s 42 players are upperclassmen — 22 juniors and nine seniors. Ellsworth said the junior class recruited during the offseason as last year attrition hit the team hard.
“They are excited,” Ellsworth said. “They want the team to grow. They want to do well. They want more players to come out.”
Andy Francsico, Dylan Zurflueh, Edgee Ocampo, Josh Miguel, Josue Martinez, Justin Doctolero, Ryan Walker, Joseph Brattole, Vince Mangrobang.
Aaron Caballa-Padilla, AJ Arevalo, Ako Viray, Austin O’Quinn, Brad Lagus, Carlso Menjivar-Fuentes, Derico Sabado, Gideon Craig, Igan Galindez, Jaemar Solano-Tolentino, Jake Ferguson, Jess Nono, John Sabangan, Juho Shin, Justin Brewer, Keole-Fred Agmata, Michael Hardy, Thor Park, Tito Sabangan, Tyler Bautista, Tylan Rudger, Darryl Recutodio.
Chancen Markum-Rombawa, Derek Powers, Jerin Roberts, Jho Bigornia, Lucas Ellsworth, Mycus Fernandez.
Garritt Roberts, Wyatt Buck, Lance Charliaga, Tyler Christiansen, Clyde Busbae.
Aug 17 — at Dimond, 2 p.m.
Aug. 23 — Chugiak at Joe Floyd, 6 p.m.
Aug. 30 — Wasilla at Joe Floyd, 6 p.m.
Sept. 6 — at Palmer, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 — Eagle River at Joe Floyd, 6 p.m.
Sept. 21 — at Soldotna, 2 p.m.
Sept. 27 — Kenai at Joe Floyd, 5 p.m.
Oct. 4 — at North Pole, 7 p.m.