FAIRBANKS—Last season seemed to be an anomaly for a talented North Pole High School football team.
For example, then senior center Garrett Longoria earned a first-team recognition on the Large Schools All-State Team, anchoring an offensive line that helped Moo Rogers become only the second quarterback in Alaska high school football history to pass and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
However, the Patriots’ 2-6 overall and 2-4 Railbelt Conference finish in 2011 put a damper on the team’s individual accolades and achievements.
Sixth-year head coach Richard Henert said this offseason — which included the Patriots participating in team and individual camps at Colony High School in Palmer; Chugiak High School; Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas; and Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. — helped North Pole put last season behind.
“Hopefully, that frustration was worked out in the offseason through the weight room, the camps and all the preparation these guys put in coming into this season,” Henert said during a break in Saturday’s Interior Jamboree at Lathrop High School.
“I feel they’re ready to compete in our conference again at a higher level,” Henert continued. “Unfortunately for us, it’s a really competitive state from Anchorage (Cook Inlet Conference) through our conference. Everybody’s ready to compete ... it should be fun but who knows where it will shake out in the end.”
The Railbelt and the CIC are the state’s large schools conferences.
If North Pole gains more wins this year than last year, its experienced, all-senior offensive line will have been a key factor. The players also tip from the scales in the 225 to 285-pound range.
“The great thing about our offensive line is that it may be the focal point of our offense this year,” Henert said. “I know it may be hard to say that when you’ve got Moo Rogers, but we’ve got three offensive linemen who have started for three years.”
Friday night’s nonconference season opener against the Dimond Lynx in Anchorage will mark the third straight year that tackles Keenan Alexander and Zach Swartz and guard/center Garrett Tucker will start for North Pole.
“Having those three veterans out there is going to be huge for our offense this year,” Henert said.
Among others who will be working in the offensive trenches for the Patriots are fellow seniors Aaron Betts, an second-team all-state selection last season as a defensive end, and Kody Campbell and Randle Kimball, a transfer from Delta Junction, which last week canceled its 2012 season because of a lack of players.
Rogers is expected to be a focal point for the Patriots opponents after his exceptional junior season.
In 2011, Rogers completed 95 of 189 passes for 1,448 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, and he rushed 162 times for 1,126 yards and 31 touchdowns. Eielson’s Colten Growden, in 2008, was the first quarterback in Alaska to achieve the double 1,000 yards feat.
This season, though, Rogers’ rushing statistics may be reduced because the Patriots coaches want him to work more through the air than on the ground.
“My coach told me to spread the ball to everybody we have and not just rely on myself,” Rogers said Saturday at Lathrop. “We have more assets than just one player.”
Among those assets are wide receivers Anthony Gibson, a senior, and juniors Jordan Copeland and Lance Wright, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last year in the opener against West Anchorage at the Anchorage Football Stadium.
The Patriots also have an effective group of running backs that include seniors Ray Johnson and Matt Wentland and promising sophomore Deondre Campbell.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.