Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau Huskies were well represented on the Division 1 All-State Football Team announced over the weekend in Anchorage, placing eight players on the first team and four on the second team, and Huskies head Rich Sjoroos and assistant Mitch Haldane garnered the state’s top coaching honors.
“It was great,” Sjoroos said of attending the selection committee meeting in Anchorage. “We did the meeting in person which I feel is always a better way to advocate for kids versus on a zoom call. What I told our guys last night was that, to me, it was a real turning point for Juneau football when we were in the room and the coaches are referring to our kids by their names not their numbers. To me that means that they had a big enough impact that the coaches around the state are starting to know who those kids are. Not just a number they see on a video. They are calling them by their names. To me that is just a big sign of respect and I was proud of our kids for getting to that level with Juneau football and hopefully it is something we can sustain going forward.”
All-State selections are made by coaches from a pool of the first team All Cook Inlet Conference recipients. In addition, Sjoroos was selected by his peers as the Alaska State Head Coach of the Year and Mitch Haldane as Alaska State Assistant Coach of the Year.
“That is just another reflection of the whole body of work by everybody,” Sjoroos said of his honor. “I’m super appreciative of that. And super excited for coach Mitch Haldane to get recognized. A lot of good things said about him in the room. And for him to not be that well known around the state on a personal level, for them to recognize the impact he had with Juneau football and that group of kids was so exciting… and when I told the kids they were more excited about it then their own honors.”
Haldane said the honor was a function of having a great group of guys, and coaches, on the team.
“It’s a group thing,” he said. “None of that happens without everything working in unison. It’s a function of having a great culture. I feel like we had a real special group of guys and they have been highlighted with a great season but it is nice to see all their hard work pay off and hopefully they can continue that into the future.”
Haldane also noted the sacrifices of team members that may have not had accolades given to them.
“There are a lot of thankless duties and positions and things in football that don’t necessarily make the front page and don’t get highlighted,” he said. “You always look at offensive line, defensive line and stuff like that. There are always guys who won’t necessarily have catches and yards and things of that nature but really set the tone for a football game, and that is just one example. But there is absolutely a lot of thankless jobs and things that need to occur for a team to be successful and we had all those things this year. It was really fun to be a part of. Just a great group of guys. I just really enjoyed being around them and it was fun being able to coach them this year. You learn a lot about yourself too. They teach you a ton.”
Senior quarterback Noah Chambers, senior running back Gaby Soto, senior wide receiver James Connally, senior offensive lineman Nate Burkhart and senior tight end Wallace Adams were selected first team all-state on offense and senior offensive lineman Mathias Wiederspohn was a second team selection.
Soto had more touchdowns than any other running back and no fumbles in his total 179 carries.
“Very rarely did he not gain yardage on a play,” Sjoroos said. “The East coach referred to him as pound for pound the strongest running back in the state. There were some really nice words said about him in the room. Gaby has always had that great vision and he was able to showcase that this year. That change of direction, he’s elusive, quick bursts … a good blocker too and a top five receiver coming out of the backfield.”
Connally averaged roughly 25 yards every time he touched the ball.
“A remarkable number,” Sjoroos said. “Such a threat to have. You’ve got him going over the top and Gaby underneath and Noah orchestrating the whole thing. I just felt like our offense performed well and fed well off the rest of the team. Sure going to miss Noah, he showed the state what he can do. Definitely a great group of seniors across the board.”
Chambers threw for 1709 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“You’re looking at some good names on that overall list of first team selections,” Sjoroos said. “You know, you’ve got Noah at quarterback and Gaby at running back and there are players from East and West and Bartlett. And they pick five lineman, so for Nate Burkhart to be one of those guys I thought that was a great acknowledgment of the season he had. He was one of our best pulling lineman. And you have Wallace… he had different roles throughout the year. He would be relied on as a blocker, sometimes more as a pass catcher out of the backfield, sometimes more down the field, he was able to field a variety of roles for us depending on the week. To have guys like that obviously puts your team in a good position to do well every time out.”
Adams was also selected to the first team defensive team as a defensive back along with junior defensive end Brandon Campbell and junior defensive back Jarrell Williams. Senior defensive end Wyatt Harvey, junior outside linebacker Jamal Johnson and junior inside linebacker Lucas White were all-state second team defense selections. The Huskies defense allowed the fewest number of points in the conference.
“You’ve got Brandon Campbell,” Sjoroos said. “You saw some of the teams we went up against this year, there are some good defensive lineman on them, for him to get that is great. And for Jarrell too, he was in a pretty competitive group of kids, it is something he should be real proud of. And Wallace. Defensively it was great for our team to get those recognitions. And it is great to see names on that list that you are excited about to see coming back next year.”
Adams also was selected as the Alaska State Utility Player of the year and the Alaska Kicker of the Year and White was chosen as the Alaska All-State Long Snapper.
Sjoroos said of Adams, “When you look at his whole body of work, I felt he is very deserving. You know, I can only speak so much about our guys and I asked other coaches to speak up if they felt our kids were deserving and the Bartlett coach did a great job of speaking about Wallace as well.”
About White, Sjoroos said, “That is always one of the things you try to figure out right away in the season is who is going to snap the ball for you, to have that already lined up for next year will save us some time. And for him to do that while being an all-state defender, as well as Jamal and Wyatt, that is hard to do.”
Sjoroos said a challenge looms.
“Yeah, we made it to the state finals,” he said. “The challenge now, is we will start looking to next season and trying to instill that this isn’t a given next year. A lot of times people just think we will be back there next year. That isn’t the way it works. We have to figure out what got us there and replicate that and continue to improve in areas where you can. We are losing a chunk of seniors. I was joking with those guys yesterday and said ‘you guys need to get out there and find your replacements… all right Wallace, who’s the next kicker for me?’ He said he had a name (laughs). If we are going to continue on the path we are on we have to find more numbers. It’s great to see the guys coming up, they’re going to be the foundation of the team, next year’s the senior class, but they are going to need guys behind them. Just like the seniors this year had guys behind them. That’s what I love about football. To me it’s the most complete team sport out there. Everybody has a role and there are so many dynamics of different body types and sizes and speeds and ability levels that make a football team great. I just love the strategy in it and I’m excited to get into the future with this group.”
Coaches don’t get to graduate. They are like a train, just stopping at every year, opening doors, and letting players on and off.
“That’s a good way to put it,” Sjoroos said. “One of the things I did tell this group was, some years I’m pretty tired and watching Netflix doesn’t sound so bad… this year, though, I had a lot of energy left in the tank, I wish we had more games to play, it was such a fun group of guys. Their dedication, determination and showing up every day just made it so enjoyable. It’s nice to know a chunk of them are coming back so it is not like everybody is leaving. I just hope we can continue that… and everybody stays hungry and humble and wants to continue to get better.”
Following are the final season statistics for the Juneau Huskies.
RUSHING (name, attempts, yards, average, touchdowns)
Gaby Soto 179 rushes for 900 yards for a 5.0 average and 18 touchdowns; Jamal Johnson 74-490, 6.6 avg. and four TD; James Connally 10-186, 18.6 avg. and three TD; Jarrell Williams 19-136, 7.2 avg.; Payton Grant 18-99, 5.5 avg. and one TD; Chris Harris 10-59, 5.9 avg.; Kadin Messmer 12-57, 4.8 avg.; Sam Sika 3-12, 4.0 avg. and one TD; Noah Chambers 27-11, 0.4 avg.; Lucas White 1-8, 8.0 avg.; Wallace Adams 1-4, 4.0 avg. and one TD; Chase Darbonne 1-2, 2.0 avg.; James Buker 1 for -3, -3 avg. The Huskies totaled 356 rushing attempts for 1961 yards, for a 5.5 average, and scored 28 touchdowns.
PASSING (name, completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, interceptions)
Noah Chambers 92 completions on168 attempts for 1709 yards, 18 TD and seven INT; Payton Grant 0-1; James Connally 1-1, 10 yards, 1 TD. The Huskies totaled 93 completions on 170 attempts for 1719 yards, 19 TD, and seven INT.
RECEIVING (receptions, yards, average, touchdowns)
James Connally 20 receptions for 567 yards for a 28.3 yard average and eight touchdowns; Wallace Adams 17-302, 17.8 avg. and one TD; Chris Harris 11-153, 13.9 avg. and two TD; Gaby Soto 12-142, 11.8 avg. and two TD; Lucas White 6-127, 21.2 avg. and one TD; Payton Grant 8-118, 14.8 avg. and one TD; Jamal Johnson 5-102, 20.4 avg.; Sam Sika 4-89, 22.2 avg. and one TD; Matt Hartsock 5-72, 14.4 avg. and one TD; and Jarrell Williams 5-47, 9.4 avg. and two TD. The Huskies had 93 receptions for 1719 yards, averaging 18.5 yards, and scoring 19 touchdowns.
NOTES: Wallace Adams was a perfect 41-41 on extra point kicks and made four field goals - one from 42 yards; Kadin Messmer and Hunter Derr scored on a safety; Chambers had three touchdown passes in a span of seven minutes against Bartlett, throwing to Adams, Connally and Harris; Adams had 12 interceptions, two returned for touchdowns… Williams, Messmer, White, Harris, Sika and Soto all had key interceptions; Connally led the state in yards per touch with an incredible 25.1 yards per; the Huskies defense allowed the fewest points per game across the league.
CAPS OFF TO SENIORS: Wallace Adams, James Buker, Nathan Burkhart, Noah Chambers, James Connally, Jack Gregson, Landon Guthrie, Matthew Hartsock, Wyatt Harvey, Reilly Hayes, Darian Kowalcik, Kurtis Lee, Anthony Martinez, Julian Mayeda, Kadin Messmer, Miles Peterson, Gaby Soto, Sione Veikoso, and Mathias Wiederspohn.