New head coach hopes to bring new enthusiasm to Eagle River football

Saturday, August 26, 2017 - 23:11
  • Eagle River head football coach Bob Adkins demonstrates technique for senior Thad Heagy during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, August 5, 2017 at Eagle River High School. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Bob Adkins is in his first year as the Eagle River High varsity football team’s head coach. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Bryson Rollman catches a pass in front of the South defense during a scrimmage on Saturday, August 5, 2017 at Eagle River High. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River Wolves players do push-ups on the sidelines during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, August 5, 2017 at Eagle River High. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River running back Grant Burningham runs the ball in a scrimmage against South on Saturday, August 5, 2017 at Eagle River High. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Jordan Baeza cools off in the hot sun during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at Eagle River High. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Jordan Baeza makes a tackle during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at Eagle River High. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s JT Adams leaps for a pass during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at EaglE River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Justice Townsend leaps for a pass during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at EaglE River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Kam Williams runs the ball during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at EaglE River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s catches a touchdown pass during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at EaglE River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River scrimmaged South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at Eagle River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Michael Caywood runs the ball during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at Eagle River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle RIver’s Orazio Ramos rounds the corner while rushing the passer during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at Eagle River HIgh. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Players from Eagle River, Colony and South prepare to scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at Eagle River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Quinard Cox runs the ball during a scrimmage against South on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 at Eagle River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Photo by Matt Tunseth 2017 Eagle River Wolves varsity Standing (L-R): James SanNicolas, Hunter Lukacz, Quinard Cox, JT Adam, Thad Heagy, Daniel Bodine, Mason Piper, Orazio Ramos, Angel Espinoza, Ryan Adams, Justice Townsend, Bryson Rollman, Miguel Veliz, Joshua Zellman, Brandon Glasser, Micah Stafford, Matthew Bellman, Andrew Murray, Kristian Ihrig, Josh Tripp, Merick Rupe, Jordan Baeza Kneeling (L-R): Kam Williams, Andrew Hamilton, Domanic Able, Grant Burningham, Kobe Sherman, Dominic Wilkins, Jason Pierce, Ben Hamilton, Michael Caywood

Eagle River football’s new pack leader hopes to bring new snarl to the Wolves’ program.

“What we’re trying to do is change the culture and get a winning mentality,” said Bob Adkins, who took over the program this season after spending two years as an assistant under Matt Turner.

Turner is now coaching special teams at Bartlett, and Adkins has brought in an almost entirely new crop of assistant coaches to help him take his shot at turning around a program that has now had five head coaches but never a winning season since starting varsity play in 2006.

Senior Grant Burningham said the new coaching staff has brought with it a fresh spark.

“It’s exciting,” Burningham said.

Learning a new offensive system has been the trickiest part of the change, Burningham said. In addition to different formations, he said even little things — such as the way running backs move toward the line on lead plays — is being coached slightly different.

“The whole offense is pretty much new,” he said.

Adkins said the team will primarily run the ball using a variety of multiple backfield formations, but will also throw when given the chance. During a recent scrimmage session against South at Eagle River, the Wolves managed to move effectively down the field on a couple different drives, displaying the ability to both run and throw consistently.

“We are a running team, but hopefully we’ll be able to throw a little bit too,” Adkins said.

Senior Thad Heagy and junior Ryan Adkins — Bob’s son — split time at quarterback during the scrimmage. Heagy led the varsity to a 2-6 campaign last season (and helping the Wolves snap a 23-game losing streak), while Adkins quarterbacked a junior varsity team that went 7-1.

“We have some good quarterbacks competing for a spot,” said Adkins, who also coaches the Eagle River boys varsity basketball team.

Eagle River has about 63 players in the program, with roughly 15 seniors and 12 juniors — Adkins said numbers were still fluctuating as the start of school approached.

On defense, the Wolves held their own against South, forcing a couple fumbles and getting a number of disruptive plays from the likes of defensive linemen Orazio Ramos and Jordan Baeza. Baeza was the team’s only first-team All-Northern Lights Conference selection last season, while Ramos promises to be an impact player as a sophomore. Against South, the big lineman drew consistent double teams as he clogged up the middle from his nose guard position.

Beating double teams, he said, requires either finesse or a well-placed flop.

“You have to either split it or if you’re getting pushed back you just fall so they don’t get more yards,” he said.

With coaches on the field and teams taking turns running plays from the 35-year-line, the August 5 scrimmage session at Eagle River (which also included Colony of the Large Schools Division’s Railbelt Conference) was a glorified practice. Still, players said getting out on the field and hitting real opponents was nice after two weeks being “gassed” in practice.

“It feels good after two weeks of two-a-days,” said Ryan Adkins during a break between scrimmages.

The junior said the team’s new head coach has consistently preached the need for Eagle River’s players to be disciplined and conditioned — which has meant a lot of running since practice began July 26.

“He said he wants us to be the most conditioned team,” Ryan Adkins said.

Last year Eagle River went 2-6 overall — a vast improvement after back-to-back winless campaigns — and Adkins said this year’s team can compete in a league stacked with Alaska football heavyweights.

“Our goal is to win as many conference games as we can,” he said.

Coach Adkins knows Eagle River will need to be in good shape to keep up in the Northern Lights Conference, where the Wolves have failed to win a conference game in their first two seasons at the Medium Schools classification.

“There’s always some powerhouse programs in the Northern Lights,” he said.

That may be the biggest understatement of the preseason, with Twin Cities titans Soldotna and Kenai Central having won 15 straight state titles between them — including nine overall championships for the Stars, who enter 2017 on a 49-game winning streak. The five-team league (which only gets two playoff spots) also includes Kodiak and Palmer, which lost to Soldotna in last year’s Medium Schools state title game.

The Wolves face a challenging nonconference schedule this year, with Large Schools foes Dimond, West Valley and Wasilla on the calendar, along with Ketchikan out of the Medium Schools classification’s Southeast Conference.

Junior Bryson Rollman said the enthusiasm has been noticeable, with the team’s mindset that it can contend in the tradition-rich NLC.

“Coach always preaches ‘believe,’” Rollman said. “Believe in the program, and in each other and in the system.”

As a first-year head coach, Adkins said his top goal for the season is for his team to continue to get better and to change a culture that continues to crave its first taste of consistent success.

“I want these kids to come out of this with a can-do attitude,” he said.

He said if he can instill in his players a positive mindset, there’s no limit to what the team can achieve this season.

“If you play as hard as you can, if you prepare, you set that foundation,” he said. “And then winning and losing will take care of itself.”

2017 Eagle River Wolves Varsity Roster:

Head Coach: Bob Adkins; 2 Ryan Adkins (Jr.); 4 Thad Heagy (Sr.); 5 Quinard Cox (Jr.); 11 Mason Piper (Jr.); 12 Justice Townsend (Jr.); 13 JT Adams (Sr.); 17 Kobe Sherman (Jr.); 21 Bryson Rollman (Jr.); 22 Kam Williams (Jr.); 23 Grant Burningham (Sr.); 24 Angel Espinoza (Sr.); 34 Kristian Ihrig (Sr.); 36 Jason Pierce (Sr.); 40 Josh Tripp (Soph.); 41 Miguel Veliz (Sr.); 42 Andrew Murray (Sr.); 43 Andrew Hamilton (So.); 44 Michael Caywood (Jr.); 50 Matthew Bellman (Jr.); 56 Domanic Able (Soph.); 60 Ben Hamilton (Jr.); 61 Merick Rupe (Soph.); 62 Makiah Stafford (Sr.); 63 Orazio Ramos (Soph.); 64 Jordan Baeza (Sr.); 66 Josh Zellman (Sr.); 70 Brandon Glasser (Jr.); 71 James SanNicolas (Sr.); 72 Daniel Bodine (Jr.); 75 Hunter Lukacz (Sr.); 82 Dominic Wilkins (Sr.)

2017 Eagle River Wolves varsity football schedule:

Saturday, Aug. 12

Ketchikan at Eagle River, 2 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 18

Eagle River at Wasilla, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 26

Dimond at Eagle River, 5 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 2

Kenai Central at Eagle River, 2 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 9

Eagle River at West Valley, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 16

Palmer at Eagle River, 2 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 23

Eagle River at Soldotna, 2 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 29

Eagle River at Kodiak, 3 p.m.

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