The first time Kodiak High School’s football team made the playoffs and reached the small-school state championship game was in 2006.
Ben Watkins was a star defensive player for that team that ended up losing 28-20 to Soldotna in the title game and finished with a program-best 8-2 record.
Ten years later and Watkins is back. The former College of the Redwoods player is heading Kodiak’s varsity defense after spending a year as the Bears’ junior varsity coach.
“That was the last hurrah and then we had three years after that of success and then it stepped back. I’m hoping to bring that back,” Watkins said.
Watkins spent a year learning from Davis Lowery, last year’s defensive coordinator who is now head coach at Kenai High School, a Northern Lights Conference rival of Kodiak. Lowery, originally from Florida, coached one year in Kodiak and his defense allowed 29.6 points per game, 34 a game against NLC opponents.
Watkins, a 2007 KHS graduate, said Lowery taught him how to breakdown film, script game plans and introduced different formations and stunts.
“As a technical coach, I have no problem with that, but it is the strategic area of coaching that I needed a platform to step off of, and Davis did a good job with that,” Watkins said.
Kodiak’s new defensive coordinator is keeping it simple with a 4-3 and a cover 2 and 3. He is not going to use blitzes, but rely on defensive line stunts and formations.
“It is a good neutral defense that I am playing,” Watkins said. “We are not going to get too complex with it. We have a lot of guys who are athletes that can naturally flow to the defense. I’m not going to confuse them.”
Kodiak has a pair of all-conference defensive backs returning in Shaun Walton and Wesley Walker.
Walton was a first-team selection — second-team all-state medium-schools — after recording 44 tackles and forcing four fumbles. He will ignite this year’s defense.
“He is that guy who is really smart and athletic; he is the whole package deal,” Watkins said.
Walker’s team-leading six interceptions placed him on the second team last season.
The coach is impressed with his linebacker core of Kaleb Finley, Russel Dela Cruz and Derek Rastopsoff and has high expectations for his line.
“We have a lot of guys who are fresh but have put in a lot of work in doing a lot of technique drills,” Watkins said.