The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Tommy Wells
Seward Phoenix LOG 

Younger 'Hawks look for success in '17

Fall Sports Preview


August 17, 2017 | View PDF

What a difference a year can make in the small-school division of football in Alaska.

“We’re going to be a lot younger this season (than in 2016),” said head football coach Kelly Cinereski, who has guided Seward in each of the past 11 seasons. “Last year, we had 11 seniors who had played a lot, and they understood football. This year, we have two. We’re going to have several players who have never played football before come in as starters right away. We’re going to be asking a lot from our younger guys early on. We’re going to need them to step up and mature quickly.”

The Seahawks’ experience level played a huge role in Seward’s ability to capture its first-ever Peninsula Conference championship a year ago. Backed by the play of running backs Michael Wilps and Nate Woodard and quarterback Nik Pahno, the Seahawks posted a perfect record in conference play and rolled into the state semifinals for only the second time in the school’s history. Seward finished its 2016 season with a 5-4 record, the second-highest win total in the program’s 14-year history.

Despite his current team’s obvious youth and inexperience, Cinereski isn’t about to write off chances at making a return trip to the postseason.

“I think we’ll be OK,” he said. “We’re not in too bad of shape,” he said. “Obviously, we’re going to be young, but we have the speed and athletic ability to match up. I ask them to not measure their success in wins and losses, but rather on how they can improve each play and each game. If we do that, by the time we get to conference, the wins will take care of themselves.”

In truth, the cupboard isn’t nearly as bare as it may seem. Despite opening the season with just 16 players, Cinereski said his team has a solid nucleus to build around – and will gain added bodies in a few weeks when the fishing season dies down.

Making the youth movement a bit easier for Seahawks fans will be the return of one of the conference’s top stable of running backs. Seward welcomes back four backs who saw considerable playing time last season. Despite sharing the carries with Wilps, who signed to play this fall at Chadron State University in Nebraska, and Woodard, Beau Freiberg, Brandon Lynch, Gabe Shrock and Shayne Sullivan give the Seahawks a wealth of talented rushers. A junior, Freiberg started several games at tailback a year ago.

A senior, Brandon Lynch also saw starting time a year ago.

Woodard led the team in scoring as a senior. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation in May.

A junior, Shrock is entering his third season with the SHS program. Sullivan is entering his sophomore campaign.

Although the Seahawks lost starter Nik Pahno to graduation, the quarterback position could also be one of the team’s strengths. The team’s backup quarterback in 2016, Chris Kingsland will be stepping into the starting role this fall. A 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior, he saw plenty of action last fall, including starting the team’s historic 22-14 victory over rival Homer in September. The victory marked the first time Seward had defeated the Mariners.

“He played quite a bit last season for us, so we’re expecting a lot from him,” said Cinereski.

Pahno signed to play this season at a small college in Montana.

In addition to his running backs, Kingsland will have a couple of talented wide receivers to throw to when he needs to take the SHS offense to the air. Among the biggest targets – literally - could be 6-foot-2, 185-pound tight end Chad Quinn. A junior, Quinn has played in each of the past two seasons.

Newcomer Kale Nickell and freshmen Collin Mullaly and Jacob Wendt will also see time as wide receivers.

The experience at the skill positions – along with a straight-ahead rushing attack - should enable his young offensive line time to jell, Cinereski believes.

“They’re a very coachable group,” he said. “We’re asking a lot from them but I think it is something they will be able to do. Fortunately, we don’t run that many different plays. We are going to keep it simple so they have an opportunity to get their legs under them. I think they’ll do fine, and the more they play together the better we’ll be.”

Leading the way for Seward in the trenches will be center Pete Hettick and guard Derek Harshman. A 6-foot-1, 290-pounder, Hettick is returning to the field after not playing in 2016. As a freshman, he starred as a defensive lineman and offensive tackle for SHS.

A junior, Harshman is a two-year veteran of the trenches.

“He (Harshman) is probably the most experienced lineman we have coming back so we’ll be depending on him to lead the way,” Cinereski said.

Elisha Buckner, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior, will get the nod as the other starter at guard, while freshman sensations Colt Ogle and Jordan Sewell will line up at tackle. A standout wrestler, Ogle checks into his rookie season at 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds. Sewell is 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds.

On paper, the Seahawks will be just as young on the defensive side, with as many as five new starters taking to the field.

“We will be younger, but I think we’ll be OK on the defensive side, especially when we get some of the other guys out and we have more depth,” said Cinereski. “Our defensive secondary and corners are good athletes and all but one of them have some experience.”

Buckner and Dylan Marcus will likely provide the bulk of the team’s defensive pressure up front. Both will start the season as defensive ends in the Seahawks’ 4-4 scheme. Sewell and Ogle will man the interior line of the SHS defense.

The Seahawks appear to be set in the secondary as Harshman and Freiberg lead a hard-hitting corps of linebackers that also includes Lynch and Schrock. Harshman and Freiberg both turned in solid seasons a year ago.

Sullivan will give the Seahawks experience at corner. He was a key contributor a year ago on the defensive side during the team’s postseason run.

Mullaly will be depended on to step in at the other corner.

“He’s a natural athlete and has good speed,” said Cinereski. “He should do well at corner.”

Kingsland will take over the safety duties in 2017.

Seward should be able to battle-harden its lineup early in the 2017 season. The Seahawks will face two of the state’s top programs in Eielson and Houston early in the year. Eielson defeated Houston by a 40-18 clip in last season’s small-school state championship game.

“We’re going to play two of the top teams in back-to-back weeks,” Cinereski said. “We’re going to do everything we can to win, but those games could be important for us later on. If we can take it one game at a time and get better every week, I think we’ll be OK.”

Following their showdowns with Eielson and Houston, the “real” season will begin for the Seahawks – conference play.

Cinereski said he already had one of the team’s most important games circled on the schedule – their September 1 showdown with Redington.

“That is a big game for us,” he said. “It’ll be on the road and under the lights. That is when it will matter because it is a crucial conference game. We have to win those games if we want to win the conference again.”

Two of the Seahawks’ final three conference games will be at home. They will host Homer on September 9 and Voznesenka on September 22, before closing out the conference race on the road with a game against Nikiski on September 30.

2017 Seward Seahawks

Football Schedule

Date Opponent Site Time

Aug. 12 Valdez Home 2 p.m.

Aug. 19 Eielson Away TBA

Aug. 25 Houston Home 5 p.m.

Sept. 1 *Redington Away 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 *Homer Home 2 p.m.

Sept. 16 Monroe Catholic Away TBA

Sept. 22 *Voznesenka Home 5 p.m.

Sept. 30 *Nikiski Away TBA

*-Peninsula Conference games


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