David DeVaughn is entering his 20th season as the head football coach at Eielson High School, his alma mater.
“It’s where I wanted to be at the end of my (playing) career,” DeVaughn said Friday night during a break in the Interior Jamboree at the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association turf fields.
“Just being blessed enough to start there and stay there, and no one’s ran me out with pitchforks and things like that yet,” he said, jokingly. “But yeah, it’s been amazing.”
The Ravens are coming off an amazing 2018 season, in which they captured the Aurora Conference regular and postseason titles and the sixth state championship in the school’s history.
However, the 2019 version of the Ravens seems different than the squad that raised the Division III state championship trophy after a 36-0 win over Aurora rival Barrow Whalers in October at Palmer High School.
Eielson graduated eight seniors from last year’s team.
Among the depatures were defensive end and tight end Brock Renson; running back Jayden Manibusan; offensive guard Scott Fry, a two-time Division III state offensive lineman of the year; and Ryan Armour, an offensive guard turned fullback and a four-touchdown contributor in the Division III final.
A mostly new group of Ravens this year are hoping to continue where the 2018 squad left off.
“That’s kind of of our mentality,” DeVaughn said. “Kids just want to succeed, and we ask a lot of them and have high expectations.
“They rise to those, and we’re blessed with a bunch of good kids out at Eielson. They always answer that bell.
“We’ve grown to expect it — (we’re) a little spoiled — but we do have some kids that are stepping up in those roles and it should keep us competitive.”
Senior quarterback Payton DeVaughn is a key returner and coach DeVaughn described him as “a little more settled” for this season.
“He knows, and we’ve had many discussions, that you don’t have to prove anything,” coach DeVaughn said. “You’ve just got to live within who you are, and you do that and the guys around do that and we’ll be fine.”
Eielson, as it’s been traditionally, will rely on its ground game.
“It’s no secret, we like to run,” coach DeVaughn said. “I do think we have that threat of the pass.”
Junior Will McManus takes over the fullback role this season, and sophomore Brandon Polesky and junior Gage Karsten are expected to contribute at right halfback and running back, respectively.
“We’ve just got to keep practicing and keep grinding,” Polesky said during a break at the Interior Jamboree. “We lost of a lot of seniors last year and we’ve just got to add new pieces in and go with it.”
Eielson’s offensive line this season seems to be gaining experience with each snap.
“They’re young, they’re a little undersized, but they’re going to get after it,” coach DeVaughn said.
Junior Caleb Gum, who was moved to guard after playing at center for the last two seasons, is the offensive line’s only returner.
“He’s kind of leading a group of pups, but they’re coming together,” coach DeVaughn said.
Five of Eielson’s state titles — 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and last year — came under DeVaughn’s tutelage. Buck Nystrom was the architect of the Ravens’ 1992 state-title run.
Eielson’s home field is named for the late Nystrom. The Ravens’ season-opener against the North Pole Patriots is named the Buck Nystrom Memorial Game.
The Ravens and the Patriots, of the Division II Railbelt Conference, meet at 7 p.m. Friday at James Watson Patriot Pride Field at North Pole High School.
Nystrom coached in the Interior for 31 seasons, 25 for Eielson and six for North Pole. He guided the Patriots to the 2004 large schools (now Division I) state title.
Nystrom is the second-winningest coach in Alaska high school football history with a 150-88 career record.
Both David DeVaughn and new North Pole head coach Mike Hollett played for Nystrom.
Proceeds of the 50/50 drawing in Friday’s game go to the Buck Nystrom Memorial Scholarship. A donation jar for the scholarship will be set up at the spirit shop at James Watson Patriot Pride Field.
Two scholarships are awarded each year to a player or team manager from North Pole and Eielson.
Eielson and North Pole alumni are invited to the game, and players from the North Pole youth football teams who are wearing their jerseys will be admitted free.
Eielson and North Pole high school alumni and youth players and their families are asked to meet on the stadium’s track before the start of Friday’s game for a recognition ceremony of Nystrom and his legacy.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.