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New season, new conference for North Pole

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Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 11:33 pm | Updated: 11:34 pm, Wed Aug 14, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The North Pole High School football team recorded a win before it took a snap this season.

2013 could develop into an interesting season for the Patriots, who open against the Eagle River Wolves of the Cook Inlet Conference at 1 p.m. Saturday at Patriot Pride Field.

North Pole is debuting in the medium schools-level Southeast Conference after a long stay in the Railbelt Conference, a large schools league.

The Southeast Conference includes Sitka, Ketchikan, Thunder Mountain and  Juneau-Douglas, which also switched from the Railbelt. North Pole, still faces former Railbelt rivals Lathrop, West Valley and Colony late in the regular season.

“Our goal is (being) undefeated going into the playoffs, taking the No. 1 seed,” said Lane Bonham, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound  safety, said Wednesday before practice. “We’re  just hoping for a good season. We’re still going to have rough edges on everything, but we’re going to take adversity and go with it.”

The Patriots’ move to the Southeast was mostly based on their new league rivals having student populations similar to North Pole’s 700. The Alaska Schools Activities Association defines  medium schools as having populations of 325-800.

“At our level, we’ve got very highly competitive groups and we’ve got some groups that need support, need help to keep going,” Patriots seventh-year head  coach Richard  Henert said Wednesday.

“We hope to work with those teams to create a more competitive atmosphere,” he said. “We want to keep the (medium schools) conferences full. I think it’s upon our shoulders, as programs that are more established, to help these programs out.”

The Northern Lights Conference is  the state’s other medium schools league, while the Railbelt and Cook Inlet are the large schools conferences.

The Patriots have already won a game in their new conference, but it wasn’t a desired win.

North Pole was set to play its first Southeast game against Sitka on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at Patriot Pride Field. The game was canceled because the Wolves didn’t have enough players.

“It definitely hurts a little bit competitively to not get some kids on the field against another group,” Henert said.

There’s a lot of kids out for the Patriots this season — 100.

“We’ve been building each year. It’s a compliment to the coaching staff; we have some great assistants who really keep the energy going,” Henert said. “I think the senior class also has a done a great job of making this a place kids want to be.”

A lot of players, though, doesn’t mean a lot of experience and size.

“Numbers aren’t a problem, but it’s too early to see how big our players are,” Henert said. “We’ll see in games  pretty quickly.

“We don’t have a lot of offensive or defensive linemen or middle (line) backers,” he said. “We have a lot of DB’s, wide receivers and smaller running backs. That’s why we run the spread (offense), and we run a 4-2-5 defense so we can get more skinny guys on the field. That’s just who are as a program.”

North Pole is aiming for success similar to last season’s 7-2 finish that included second place in the Railbelt and a berth in large schools state quarterfinals.

Senior Mitch Martinez (5-9, 160) moves up from JV to take over at quarterback for the graduated Moo Rogers, who during the last two years passed for 3,114 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 2,080 yards and 38 TD’s.

“He’s a great leader and kids respond to him well,” Henert said of Martinez.

Martinez and senior Austin McCoy were set to platoon at quarterback but a knee injury sidelined McCoy for the season. Sophomore Garrett Sommer (5-10, 185) is scheduled to be North Pole’s No. 2 quarterback this season.

Senior Lance Wright returns after leading the state’s wide receivers last season with 45 catches for 1,017 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“His offseason work ethic is amazing. I’ve never seen anybody put more time into the  game than he does,” Henert said.

The Patriots are expected to be solid defensively, particularly with a senior core of Bonham, free safety Khalil Steward (6-4, 180), cornerback Jordan Copeland (5-9, 175) and tackles Rylan Ellis (6-0, 260) and Ben Davis (6-1, 260).

Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586.

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