The North Pole High School football team begins its season tonight at home against last year’s Division III state champions, the Eielson Ravens, and the team is doing its best not to dwell on last season’s 0-8 record.
“Really we are just trying to step forward and be positive. We talk about last year a little bit but a lot of these kids didn’t play last year, so we are just looking to establish what the 2019 Patriots are without worrying about what the 2018 Patriots were,” North Pole rookie head coach Mike Hollett said after Thursday’s practice.
“They went 0-8 last year and they came off a 6-2 season (in 2017). So to go from 6-2 to 0-8, there is not much of a reason why you can’t flip it.”
Hollett, an offensive lineman for the Patriots from 2000-03 who returned to his alma mater to coach the offensive line from 2009-15, spent the last three years away from high school football, coaching junior football and his own children in soccer.
When an opening at head coach for North Pole was announced last year, Hollett felt he was ready to step back into high school football and take on a bigger role for the Patriots.
“I wanted to help provide a place that kids wanted to be and I thought I could do that. I could be a positive voice for them and really make it about them and what is good for kids around the community,” he said.
“Football was such a positive place for me. You know it really shaped who I was and I had a lot of positive role models through it.”
With Hollett in his first year and handful of new assistant coaches and young players, one familiar face taking the field for the Patriots tonight will be returning starting quarterback, Chris Lovett.
“Last year he’ll say that he didn’t have much of a leadership role. This year being a senior, he’s seeing that there’s a leadership void and he’s stepping into that and that’s really cool,” his head coach said.
Hollett expects senior running back Isaiah Harding, junior wide receiver Alex Garcia and the offensive line unit to also make big impacts this season.
The competition for the starting spots at linebacker has heated up during the Patriot’s official preseason practices.
“Depending on the day you say, ‘Oh man this kid really stepped up,’ and then the next day another kid steps up,” Hollett said. “We are looking forward to see that linebacker competition unfold and watch those kids push each other and fight for playing time.”
The Patriots’ game against the Ravens begins at 7 p.m. today at James Watson Patriot Pride Field at North Pole High School.
The game is also the Buck Nystrom Memorial Game in honor of Alaska’s second-winningest high school football coach. Nystrom compiled a 150-88 record while for 31 years — 25 for Eielson and six for North Pole.
He coached the Ravens to the 1992 state title — when all the schools in the state played in one division. He guided the Patriots to the 2004 state title for the large schools division (now Division I)
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.