Mustangs seeking redemption
Since the state football playoffs were expanded to eight teams in 1993, Chugiak has never missed postseason play in three consecutive seasons. To avoid earning that dubious distinction this year, the Mustangs know they need to improve in all areas of the game.
“We didn’t have the drive to actually want to win,” said Chugiak senior lineman Kenny Pegues, a four-year starter and the only current Mustang with playoff experience.
Chugiak went 2-6 overall and 2-5 last season in the Cook Inlet Conference. They’ll likely need at least one more conference win to earn one of the Conference’s five playoff berths.
Senior Jake Brownlee said Chugiak’s players wanted to forget about 2012 as soon as possible, with team members starting their offseason workouts more than seven months ago in preparation for the season.
“Once January comes we have to be in the weight room,” Brownlee said.
Brownlee said the team got good participation in off-season workouts that included strength work with a pair of Army fitness trainers.
“They really got our conditioning up,” he said.
As one of the smaller teams in the Large Schools division — Shackelford said he expects to have about 30 players on the varsity roster. And with only about a half dozen varsity caliber linemen, Brownlee said conditioning will be at a premium.
“We can’t platoon like other teams,” Brownlee said.
However, if Chugiak can stay healthy, the Mustangs do have experience on their side. Brownlee, Pegues, Ted Carlson, Charley Pappas and tight end Matt Oldenkamp all started up front last season, giving Chugiak an experienced group in the trenches.
“They’re not real big but they’re tough,” Shackelford said. “We’re just not real deep.”
Chugiak’s offense struggled to put up points last year, and the normally solid Mustang ground attack ground to a halt. The team complied only 735 yards rushing (while allowing more than 1,600 defensively), led by Josh Capers’ 231 on 60 attempts.
With that in mind, Shackelford handed over play-calling duties this season to assistant Ryan Landers, who will serve as offensive coordinator.
Brownlee said he thinks the switch to Landers will have the desired effect of shaking things up.
“It’s nice having a different perspective, but we’ll still probably run a lot of the same stuff,” he said.
Jamie Mayo is also back for a third season as Chugiak’s defensive coordinator on a staff that also includes defensive coordinator Jamie Mayo, receivers/defensive backs coach Keaton Homer and JV coach Roger Spackman, a former head coach at East.
“I’m very fortunate to have a great staff,” said Shackelford, who’s in his 10th and final season at Chugiak.
Unlike last season, Chugiak also has the benefit of a veteran team with varsity experience at nearly every position.
“We’re all on the same page,” said Mayhew.
Brownlee said he believes Mayhew — who’s been a starter at the c-team, junior varsity and varsity levels — is poised to have a breakout season.
“I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the state,” Brownlee said of Mayhew, who completed 64 percent of his passes last year.
Chugiak will rely heavily on its experience in the offensive backfield. Although Capers moved out of state during the offseason, returners Dylan Timberlake, Tyler Carnahan and Karson Forbush all saw significant action last season.
“We’ve got a lot of returning seniors and we’re really excited about what we’ve got,” Brownlee said.
Shackelford said Chugiak’s biggest concern — as usual — will be staying healthy enough to compete with the deeper, more physically talented teams they’ll see in the CIC.
“I tell my kids you have to make sure you’re in better shape than anybody out there,” he said.
Brownlee said it’s a message Chugiak players have taken to heart over the past seven months of training.
“We don’t enjoy it necessarily, but we know that’s what it takes,” he said. “We know winning starts during the less glorious part of practice.”