NORTH POLE-A new high school football season is upon us and for the North Pole Patriots they're also in a new conference. The Patriots finished 7-1 last year and ended with a loss to West Anchorage in the playoffs. Now the Patriots are playing at the medium schools level this year in the Southeast Conference with Ketchikan, Thunder Mountain, Juneau-Douglas and Sitka. Head coach Rich Henert believes his team is looking forward to this new challenge.
"We got you know high expectations being in the new level and things like that. But there's still some great competition amongst this level. But really it's focusing on dominating what we can, one week at a time and then down the road we got teams like Juneau and Soldotna if we face them in the playoffs are very talented," Henert said.
The North Pole defense returns a stout secondary led by Jordan Copeland and Khalil Steward who both double as defensive backs and wide receivers. Steward is playing his first year as a safety this season. He said he likes playing defense a little bit more.
"I like playing safey more. Don't tell the coach," Steward said chuckling. "This is my first year at safety it's really fun. We really do need to communicate. This last week we we're at Chugiak and we did pretty well down there with the communication and stuff. This year hopefully we'll get that chemistry together and then we'll take it from there."
Copeland is a senior defensive back and knows where the secondary can improve.
"We just have to play more aggressive to our receivers. We have a lot of good athletes this year and we just have to play stronger and we have to play better. Hopefully things will be better for us," Copeland explained.
Defense will be huge because the offense lost all five of their starters on the offensive line from last year as well as two quarterbacks. Moo Rogers graduated and Austin Mccoy suffered a partial ACL tear earlier this summer is likely out for the year. Mitchell Martinez is the leading quarterback candidate. Wide receiver Lance Wright, a Rice University commit, believes Martinez and the rest of his team are coming along.
"He doesn't very much varsity experience but he does exprience at JV and he won a lot at JV. So he knows how to win and I think he's a good leader. I think we'll be able to figure it out," Wright said.
But we'll see how it all goes down for North Pole this Saturday. Their home opener against Eagle River. Eagle River finished 2-6 last season.
*Patriots Schedule note*
Sitka cancelled it's first two games of the season including week two against North Pole. The Patriots have been in talks with Kodiak and Houston to hopefully fill that week two game but no decision has been made yet.