FAIRBANKS-This season the Lathrop Malmemutes have nowhere to go but up. They went 1-5 in the Railbelt Conference last year and 2-6 overall. Both of their wins were on the road. The Malemutes lost the Dog Bowl by just one point to West Valley last season. But Lathrop has a young core group of sophomores and juniors who have another year of experience in their minds as they prepare for a season with new opportunities for wins.
One of their seniors however, is quarterback Robert Tanner who is replacing Gabriel Cunningham. Cunningham graduated and is playing at the division three level. Tanner has been a student of the game the last couple of seasons, holding the clip board, studying opponents, watching and observing. This year at helm Tanner is almost professional, even Peyton Manning like in his preparation. He likes to start early and on time.
"At 12 o'clock we start practice. So we should be warming up aabout 11:30, 11:35 so by 12 o'clock we're running plays, we're running our indies (individuals), we're doing all these things. But at 12 o'clock we start practice," Tanner said.
One of his key weapons will be junior Travis Phillips. The Lathrop coaches rave about his quickness and ball skills and playmaking ability on both sides of the ball. However, this is Phillips first season with the Malemutes and first time playing football in Alaska. Phillips is from Florida.
"I wasn't really used to the two-a-days. I never really did it in Florida. The weather is really different. It's a lot colder here but I got used to it," Phillips said.
One of their few two-way players will be senior Jeremiah Webb. They call him the iron man because he has been playing offense and defense all four years at Lathrop. Defensively he sees the defensive line as the x-factor for the defense.
"I mean we got a strong front, the d-line. Me and Devin Middleton have the strongest responsibility at outside containment. We feel pretty confident," Webb said.
Also on defense they have Braeden Houppough at safey. Houppough is also a standout soccer player for Lathrop. Along that defensive front that Webb aluded to will be Brandon Webb-no relation. Brandon, a senior, is also the starting center and will be a an important piece to the improvement and progression of the offensive and defensive line throughout the season.
Second year head coach Rusty Ham likes the make up of his team and feels Friday night will be a good starting opportunity for this young team to excel.
"You know it just feels good to have a team that I think can compete on Friday night for four quarters. That's what feels good. That's all we're looking forward [to]. Just one game at a time really one play at a time. To be home and representing this field, it's a really nice grass field this year, new uniforms, it's going to be a fun time," Ham said.
The Malemutes will kickoff the Interior football season first. They'll be the only game in town when they host the Dimond Lynx, a 3-5 team last year, this Friday night at 7 pm.