Kodiak High head football coach Bryan Ellsworth calls Gideon Craig — his 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman — a dancing bear.
“He is a bear on skates,” said Ellsworth, referring to Craig’s hockey background.
The senior was unaware of his coach’s nickname for him but was amused by it when told after Tuesday evening’s practice at Joe Floyd Track and Field.
“That is funny,” said Craig.
That is Craig, a big kid who acts like a big kid by keeping practice lighthearted with one-liners. Don’t let that fool you, though. He is competitive. His tenacity on the field landed him on the all-Northern Lights Conference offensive and defensive second team as a junior.
He is crossing his fingers he will get an opportunity to collect more accolades in his final prep season. Kodiak football is currently just practicing as the school district canceled all games through September because of COVID-19.
“I want to be out on the field as much as possible, even if we don’t get a game this year. I’m just believing that there is a season coming,” Craig said.
“If we don’t have a season, I will enjoy every bit of practice that we have on this field and pass on all that I know to the younger kids and hope that the coronavirus goes by and they get their senior years.”
Born in Glennallen, Craig didn’t start playing football until the sixth grade when he moved to The Rock with his mom and younger sister. He grew up on the ice in Glennallen, because the small town 136 miles east of Palmer did not have youth football.
He towered over the smaller Cub Division players in the Kodiak Football League, so he was elevated to the Grizzlies Division — a rung below high school football.
Being new to the sport, Craig got pushed around in his first year. That didn’t keep him from returning the next year.
“When I moved here, I didn’t have a lot of friends, and football was that social part. I didn’t see it as something I would do in the future, yet,” Craig said. “When I hit my eighth-grade year, I saw that I was actually getting good at this and that I could be a good player and destroy some people.”
While he was adjusting to the gridiron, he spent time in the gym, learning weight training from his mom’s boyfriend, Mike Brown. That gave him the strength to become a varsity starter as a sophomore. Ellsworth said Craig is the anchor of this year’s linemen group.
“Gideon wants to get better. That is what makes him a good player,” the coach said. “He has abilities — he doesn’t have five-star abilities — but he has coachability. People talk about intangibles, and I think that is tangible. He is willing to listen to what is being said and fixes it.”
Ellsworth’s best memory of Craig came in the final game of the 2018 season when running back Micah Bartel busted a long touchdown run to become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher.
“He is just fist-pumping the whole way (down the field),” the coach said. “That was one of the shining moments for him. He was so happy for his teammate. That exemplifies him.”
Craig, as a sophomore, felt fortunate to be part of Kodiak’s history. He was the lead blocker on the play, and Bartel zoomed through the path that Craig cleared.
“He was a really good rusher, probably one of the best rushers that Kodiak has ever had,” Craig said. “Everyone of us was part of the push down the field, but Micah did the running.”
Craig enjoys the physicalness of the game and likes spending two hours a day with his teammates.
“I try to have fun during practice, definitely this year because we don’t know what is going to happen or what is going to go on,” he said.
Craig has aspirations of becoming an Alaska State Trooper but first is aiming to collect a criminal justice degree. He has always been interested in law enforcement.
“Saving people. Being there for people. That can be shared into football. I
I just like being there for people,” he said.