Levi Smith gets a hug from a teammate as he walks of the field at Homer High School carrying a pirate flag Oct. 7, 2017 following the varsity football team’s win over Ben Eielson High School 33-21 in Homer, Alaska. The Mariners went on to lose the ASAA First National Bowl Series Division III Championship game to the Barrow Whalers. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Levi Smith gets a hug from a teammate as he walks of the field at Homer High School carrying a pirate flag Oct. 7, 2017 following the varsity football team’s win over Ben Eielson High School 33-21 in Homer, Alaska. The Mariners went on to lose the ASAA First National Bowl Series Division III Championship game to the Barrow Whalers. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Football: Mariners fall to Kodiak in season opener

After a whirlwind season that ultimately ended in heartbreak for the Mariners, the Homer football team is debuting with an entirely new look and feel, and they have a bit of ground to make up.

The team lost its first game of the season last Friday in Kodiak. The Mariners fell to the Bears 56-15, after losing some players early to minor injuries. Head Coach Walter Love, last year’s Division III Coach of the Year, said he’s taking the loss for what it is, identifying where the failures were and having his team work on it. A lot of the specialty positions that were lost when last year’s seniors graduated are still soft. Some of this Love puts on himself — he could have put younger players in more often last year, which in turn could have left them better prepared this year.

At the same time, Love said playing sophomores and freshman at the varsity level can be more risk than reward.

With only five seniors, the team is sophomore and junior heavy. Two of those seniors are center Jadin Mann and right tackle Finn Heimbold, who Love called amazing linemen.

The team is energetic but young. Love said he thinks the loss gave the players a better sense of self and “where they are in the universe of football.” The beginning of this season will be of the back-to-basics sort, a lesson in the fundamentals of the game, which Love said some of the players haven’t really had yet.

Love did say he was glad to end the Kodiak game with no serious injuries to his players. He also talked about several bright spots he sees for the team this year. One of them in Anthony Kalugin, a junior and quarterback. A student at Voznesenka School, Kalugin played on the Head of the Bay football team — made up of students from all three Russian Old Believer village schools — until the varsity program ended this year.

Kalugin had a good game against Kodiak, Love said, and thew some good balls. Love said the focus for Kalugin going forward will be footwork, and getting used to standing in the pocket and letting the play develop around him. This is a growth period for Kalugin, Love said, who will have to get used to having a solid line.

Another player to watch is freshman offensive lineman Sean Pilant, Love said, who played in the game against Kodiak and did an admirable job, along with sophomore offensive lineman Joshua Manwiller.

An established powerhouse of the Mariner team is junior Noah Fisk, who in the game against Kodiak led his team with 75 yards on 18 carries, and scored a touchdown. Sophomore Josh Bradshaw scored the other.

Last year, Love had eight powerful, skilled seniors that led the team farther than it had every gone in Division III football — all the way to the state championship game. He described those players as having a very high football IQ. At the same time, Love said, it was sometimes a challenge to manage the multiple alpha personalities and get those personalities the knowledge to work together on the field.

This year, it’s a different challenge. His players are good kids who lack the fundamentals, Love said. It’ll be less about personnel management, as he called it, and more about learning.

“I think the future is bright and the kids are going to do OK now that they understand,” he said.

To see full results from the Kodiak game, view this week’s Sports in Brief.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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