Mustangs look to repeat as Railbelt football champs
Lessons can be learned both on and off the field. On a recent trip to the Kenai Peninsula, the Chugiak Mustangs got a chance to do both.
A scrimmage against the defending Medium Schools division champion Soldotna Stars provided the humbling lesson on the turf, while the bus trip to the Central Peninsula gave the team a chance to learn a bit more about each other.
“I think it was a great experience for our team bonding,” said senior Ian Stover, one of a large group of Chugiak players who have come up through the youth and high school ranks together.
Stover said the highlight of the trip was actually when the team bus got stuck in traffic waiting for a Seward Highway traffic accident to clear.
“There was some music playing and whatnot, some people watched Netflix but most people just hanged out in the back and entertained themselves with some freestyle (rap) and singing along,” he said.
After some impromptu rap battles, Stover said senior teammate Terry Park emerged as the team’s freestyle king.
Chugiak senior quarterback Hunter Harr said the squad’s close bond is the big strength of a team that’s looking to improve on a 5-4 season that saw it win the Large Schools Railbelt Conference before falling in the first round of state to Service.
“All of us have gone from freshman year to now together, so it’s nice to have that kind of chemistry,” said Harr, one of 17 seniors on the roster.
Team chemistry can take a team a long way, but it’s not everything. Against the Stars (who enter the season riding a 49-game winning streak), Chugiak found itself chasing the game against a team that came ready to run wild.
“We went up against the program in the state that’s won 15 million games in a row,” said head coach Roger Spackman, who was named the Railbelt Coach of the Year in 2016. “It’s always hard in that scrimmage because they’re really good and they run that offense that you don’t plan for.”
Despite finding some tough sledding against the Stars, Spackman said the informal scrimmage — no score was kept — provided his squad with a much-needed boost of motivation heading into the regular season, which begins Friday, Aug. 11 with a 7 p.m. nonconference clash against defending state Large Schools champion East.
“It helps us understand what we need to work on,” he said.
In Chugiak’s defense, the Mustangs weren’t at full speed during the scrimmage, resting a couple key players — including one in particular who figures to be a huge part of Chugiak’s game plan on both sides of the ball.
“We try to do whatever we can to put the ball into Derryk’s hands,” Spackman said.
The Derryk in question is Derryk Snell, a senior who has started — and starred — since his freshman year and last year won both the Railbelt and Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year honors. On defense, the former Gruening Colt was also a first-team All-Railbelt and first-team Large Schools All-State linebacker.
He’s pretty good.
“He’s huge,” Harr said of Snell, who will line up at wide receiver, fullback and halfback on offense and linebacker on defense. “He’s a utility player, he plays all over the field — wherever we need him to play.”
Harr said Snell is a quiet leader who lets his standout play do most of the talking.
“He’s obviously a giant part of our offense and our defense really,” Harr said. “He’s a big team leader.”
Snell ran for 1,023 yards and gained 654 as a receiver last year for the Mustangs, who finished atop the Railbelt in their first season since moving over from the Cook Inlet Conference. Harr said the fast, powerful Snell has the ability to catch almost any pass thrown his way.
“He always tells me, ‘Just trust me, I’m going to go up and get it,’” Harr said.
Usually, that’s exactly what happens, with Snell particularly known for his acrobatic leaping grabs over befuddled defenders.
“You’ve seen him — since his freshman year he’s been going up and making those catches,” said Harr, who is coming off a first-team All-Railbelt and second-team All-State season as a junior.
For his part, Snell said his job is to make plays and lead the way by setting a good example for his teammates.
“I’m the leader and captain,” he said. “If I’m nervous, the whole team will be nervous and we won’t play good, so I’ve got to lead by example.”
In addition to Snell, Stover and Harr, the Mustangs also return Ramal Maad, a wideout and defensive back who should help provide the Mustangs bring plenty of firepower to the conference, which also includes Colony, Wasilla, West Valley and Lathrop.
Chugiak’s nonconference games include East, Kenai, South and Green Canyon, a first-year high school in North Logan, Utah, where Chugiak will travel for a Sept. 8 contest.
The Mustangs will have to replace several key players from last year’s team, including the departed Cody Bailey, a first-team All-State lineman, and Merrick Johnson, a first-team All-State linebacker.
But with a roster stocked with players who have grown up playing together (Stover said he and Snell have been on the same team for 13 years), Chugiak enters the season confident in its chance to return to the state playoffs — and beyond.
“I think last year we came into it thinking it would be easier than it was,” Harr said. “But this year I think we know it’s going to take work to be at the top of this division but I think we’ll be very competitive this year and atop of the division this year.”
Spackman said he has high standards for this year’s team.
“We expect big things.”
2017 Chugiak Mustangs varsity football roster:
Head Coach: Roger Spackman
2 Anthony Jones (Sr.); 3 Peter Giannulis (Sr.); 4 Hunter Harr (Sr.); 5 Matt Davis (Sr.); 7 Derryk Snell (Sr.); 8 Drayelm Watson (Sr.); 9 Quentin Wilson (Soph.); 10 Jayden Vanaman (Jr.); 11 Ace Chapple (Sr.); 12 Aaron Tomosoulo (Sr.); 13 Terry Park (Sr.); 15 Jacob Oshesky (Soph.); 18 Ramal Maad (Sr.); 20 Jacob Schoelen (Sr.); 21 Judah Kesler (Sr.); 25 Kenny Sisson (Sr.); 28 Jeremiah Wilson (Jr.); 32 Torrin Girrard (Jr.); 34 Austin Harr (Soph.); 35 Jared Heaston (Jr.); 48 Carter Newell (Jr.); 49 Tyler Huffer (Soph.); 52 Joe Groth (Jr.); 54 Steven Parsons (Sr.); 58 Parker Davis (Jr.); 62 Colin Caldwell (Soph.); 64 Daniel Fujimoto (Jr.); 65 Koda Stone (Jr.); 66 Ian Stover (Sr.); 72 Ryan Binniker (Jr.); 76 Lance Rose (Sr.); 77 Johnathan Duffield (Sr.); 81 Thomas Sitz (Jr.)
Chugiak Mustangs 2017 Varsity Football Schedule
Friday, Aug. 11
Chugiak at East, 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 18
South at Chugiak, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 26
Chugiak at West Valley, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 2
Lathrop at Chugiak, 3 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 8
Chugiak at Green Canyon (N. Logan, Utah), 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 15
Kenai Central at Chugiak, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 22
Chugiak at Wasilla, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 29
Chugiak at Colony, 7 p.m.