Mariners near end of season with awards, many firsts for team

Had you asked a Homer Mariners football fan this time last year what the team’s chances of going to the state playoffs were, you might not have gotten a very positive answer. But that’s all changed for the players this year, under the direction of newcomer Walter Love, who was named coach of the year for the Division III Peninsula Conference.

The all conference results show Love being named coach of the year after his first year in the position.

“I’m humbled, and honored by that,” he said. “I know what these coaches in the conference are going through every day, so to be able to garner that is a privilege.”

Senior player Teddy Croft was named offensive player of the year, and senior Levi King was named lineman of the year.

“It goes to having the right staff in the right place at the right time,” Love said of the award.

He credits the recognition to the work of his players and his assistant coaches, who he said know the game of the football and know how to teach it well. The coaching combination at Homer this year has led the team to the Division III Peninsula Conference state championship game, something that’s never happened before. Homer’s last appearance at a championship game was in 2012 when the team was still part of Division II.

This is just one of several firsts for the team this year. They also clinched the Division III conference title for the first time, and hosted the first home playoff game in the school’s history. This is a stark turnaround from where the team was the last few years.

“Homer has excellent athletes, but we were missing fundamentals,” Love said. “And having a sore lack of fundamentals resulted in injuries last year and resulted in poor team play that came out of that.”

Love has said repeatedly over the course of this season that his students are now learning to play good football. To Love, that means heavy emphasis on hard physical work.

“We worked really hard, harder than we’ve ever worked,” King said of the season.

Love said his players recognize that there is a price to pay for the kind of football he coaches, in terms of putting in the manual labor and time.

“They stepped up and said, ‘Yeah, we’re willing to pay the bill,’” he said.

The other part of Love’s coaching philosophy is emphasizing respect, of oneself, one’s teammates and the other team on the field. Part of showing another team the respect they’re due is by having the Mariners play their best game against them, he said.

“Anything less, to me, is disrespectful,” he said.

Of King and Croft, Love said it’s not hard to see why the two were honored with all conference awards. King is able to dominate both sides of the line consistently, he said.

“That kind of effort is, you know, that’s why he’s number one,” Love said. “You don’t see it very often.”

Of Croft, Love said, “I’m glad he’s on our side.”

He moved the senior quarterback around to play different positions this year, and wants people to know that Croft is an all around athlete rather than just a quarterback.

“Teddy’s a great athlete,” Love said. “He’s very smart … and he’s going to go play football somewhere else after graduation, there’s no doubt in my mind.”

Croft said he’s talked with a couple colleges and is keeping his options open as he wants to play football at the next level.

“I love football,” he said. “I think college would be a really great experience to go play and just see how different it is from high school.”

Croft and King said they were pleased with their awards, and said they showcased all the hard work they and their teammates have put in this year. As seniors, they said it’s been a nice experience to be on a dominating team this year.

“It’s been a long four years,” King said.

“We’ve put so much work into it and we’ve just been so dedicated,” Croft said. “It just means a lot more this year.”

A side effect of having a successful team is having a more robust football community in Homer.

“When I got here, the stands were empty if you weren’t related to one of these guys,” Love said.

He said the community support for the team this year has improved as well. Love sees football as one more way to get kids engaged with being at school and part of the school environment, Love said.