Justin Zank, former head coach of the Heat of the Bay Cougars, pictured here on Sept. 1, 2017 at McNeil Canyon Elementary School in Fritz Creek, Alaska, is the new head coach for the Homer High School football team. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Justin Zank, former head coach of the Heat of the Bay Cougars, pictured here on Sept. 1, 2017 at McNeil Canyon Elementary School in Fritz Creek, Alaska, is the new head coach for the Homer High School football team. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Former Head of the Bay football coach will lead the Mariners

The Homer High School football team has a new leader starting this season, but it’s a face many in the community will recognize.

Justin Zank is set to take over for former head coach Walter Love, who served in the position for two years. Zank, who hails originally from southern Florida, was at the helm of the football program for the three Russian Old Believer village schools at the head of Kachemak Bay.

Of his new position as head coach of the Mariners, Zank said “it’s going to be a lot of hard work, but it’s going to be a good time.”

Zank is now back on the main road system in Homer, teaching physical education at both West Homer Elementary School and Paul Banks Elementary School.

He taught at Voznesenka School for eight years and coached the varsity football program (made up of students from Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak-Selo schools) for five years. He said it wasn’t easy leaving those communities, but that it was time for a change.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “… We did a lot of special things out there, but it was time for a new challenge. Time for a move, and I’m super excited to be in town now.”

This year marks Zank’s return to coaching football since the Head of the Bay Cougars varsity program ended in 2018 after five seasons.

“We really missed it,” he said of the game. “Shutting down the (Cougars) program was one of the hardest decisions out there. So I’m super excited to get to do it again.”

Zank won’t have to say goodbye to all his former players, though. Starting with last football season, a few students from the village schools joined ranks to play with the Mariners. Zank said he’s hopeful for six to 10 players from the villages this season.

With football camp having just started, the roster for the Mariner football team hasn’t been formed yet. Zank said 23 players turned out for the first day of camp on Monday, and it’s a relatively young bunch.

That means there will be extra emphasis on football fundamentals this season, he said. Zank talked a bit about his approach to coaching just before a football camp session on Tuesday.

“What we say is just, ‘be better,’” he said. “And being better means small changes daily. So, we want to focus on being better today than we were yesterday, and being better tomorrow than we were today. Just a little bit better each and every day. So it’s not just a football change, it’s a lifestyle change, you know — being a better son, being a better brother, being a better friend, student.”

Zank said he’s looking forward to becoming more a part of the Homer community.

“I’m looking forward to meeting new people, getting more involved in this community,” he said. “I’ve got two young daughters who are going to be coming up through this community.”

When Zank talks about becoming part of the community, he means it in more than just words — he and his wife, who is a speech pathologist at West Homer Elementary, are now building a house in the Homer area as well.

“My wife and I both want to be integral parts of this community,” he said. “We want to have an impact for many years to come.”

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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