There was rain and wind during the Lathrop High School football team’s practice Tuesday night at the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association Turf Fields.
The weather, however, seemed fitting for a team whose preseason practices have included dealing with adversity.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces this year and we’re really young,” Lathrop head coach Luke Balash said after Tuesday’s practice.
“We were going into the jamboree last week, wondering how we would deal with adversity. Under pressure, would we hold together?”
Coincidentally, Tuesday’s practice was at the site of the Interior Jamboree on Friday.
The 2019 version of the Malemutes dealt well with Friday night’s adversity at the FYSA turf.
“We did a pretty good job, for the most part, holding together and sticking with each other, and working through the problems,” the fourth-year Lathrop head coach said.
Another form of adversity awaits the Malemutes this weekend.
Lathrop visits the Eagle River Wolves at 3 p.m. Saturday in the nonconference regular-season opener for the Division II teams. Lathrop is a member of the Railbelt Conference and Eagle River is a member of the Northern Lights Conference.
“This weekend is going to light a fire under them,” Balash said. “We’ll see how we do coping with adversity and coping with stress.
“There’s going to be injuries or illnesses at different times, and there already is this week for us.
“How do our guys do at adjusting, adapting and overcoming together? It will show who they are and how it works out in the end.”
Saturday’s opener also is a rematch of last year’s Division II semifinal playoff, won 30-24 by Eagle River. Lathrop advanced to the postseason by finishing the regular season in first place in the Railbelt at 6-3 overall and 3-0 conference.
More than half of Lathrop’s 2019 varsity roster consists of newcomers.
“A lot of sophomores, a lot of young kids moving up (from junior varsity to varsity) and a lot of kids moving in from out of state,” Balash said.
Several of Lathrop’s students come from military families.
Balash, so far, likes what he’s seen in the preseason.
“I’m pleased with the progress so far but we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
However, continuity has helped many of Lathrop’s varsity newcomers.
“Those kids who have stayed with us have a continuity in the system from the JV to the varsity level using all the same play calls,” Balash said, “and everything is helpful.”
“The offseason work that we put in through camps and workouts, and every other thing we’ve got going certainly helped a lot at having those guys get up to speed and ready to go.”
A pair of sophomores, Andre Williams and Keegan Laughlin, are expected to have immediate impacts for the Malemutes this season.
Williams has worked at running back, on defense and special teams in the preseason.
“He’s a big-time playmaker, an exciting kid to watch,” Balash said. “We’re hopeful he’s going to get loose on some things (runs) and make some things happen.”
Laughlin is versatile enough to play at linebacker, fullback and tight end.
“He’s grown up a lot in a year,” Balash said, “and he’s worked a lot in the offseason to get where he can play a lot of football.”
Senior Jace Henry will play a lot at quarterback this season.
“He’s a monster. He’s the strongest kid I’ve ever coached,” Balash said. “He’s getting faster and faster; he’s working at getting lighter and faster. He’s a hard-working kid.”
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior is still versatile. He’s expected to see some time at linebacker this season and during Tuesday’s practice, Henry played at offensive guard on the scout team.
“I’m a team player; if the coach needs me to go somewhere (position wise), I’m there,” Henry said after Tuesday’s practice.
Last season, he was a reserve quarterback who often played in trick formations.
“My big thing is I’ve always been a good runner and I’ve had the deep ball (passing ability) for a while,” Henry said.
He also has a rapport with the Malemutes receivers this year.
“On the field, we’re all together,” Henry said, “but the big thing I would say is off the field, we’re all good friends.”
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.