Prep football is back, and there is no shortage of storylines as teams enter the 2019 season.
Four of the Valley’s five programs reached the postseason last year. The fifth, Redington, is starting just its fourth varsity season in team history.
There are also three programs with a first-year head coach. Palmer, Colony and Wasilla replaced a head coach in the same offseason for the first time.
Let’s start at Palmer, where new head coach Tim Popowski is working to fill the void left by one of the best to ever roam a sideline in the state of Alaska. Following the 2018 campaign, Rod Christiansen hung up the whistle after 28 years as the head coach of Moose football. Christiansen holds the all-time record for career wins in Alaska prep football history with 159, and is still the only head coach to lead a Valley team to a prep football title in Alaska. The Christiansen-led Moose won it all in 1995.
But as Christiansen hands the ball off to Popowski, the Moose appear to have about a smooth of a transition as possible in high school sports. Popowski, who landed his first high school coaching job at Palmer after a stellar career as an offensive lineman at North Dakota State, has been with the Moose for 12 seasons. As an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, Popowski helped Palmer continue to boast one of the state’s top run games on an annual basis.
Colony’s new head coach is also no stranger to the program. Robbie Nash, a longtime supporter of Knights football, takes over for Fred McKenney, who stepped down after leading the Knights to the large-schools semifinals last season. Nash is a former assistant, a Colony football dad and a staunch supporter of the Knights. Nash has also had tremendous success at the youth level, guiding multiple teams in the Mat-Su Steelers programs to a state title. He inherits a program that has been able to cultivate great depth while battling in the hunt for the postseason every year.
The trend of familiarity continues in Wasilla, where the Warriors have a new mentor who is now leading multiple programs. Ken Ottinger replaced former head coach Will Stout, who returned to his home state of Texas for family reasons after three seasons at Wasilla. Ottinger was the linebackers coach last season. He is also the head coach of the Wasilla High and Wasilla American Legion baseball programs that have made Valley and state history during the past few months. In June, Ottinger’s Warriors earned an ASAA state baseball title for the first time in school history. Ottinger’s Wasilla Road Warriors advanced to the Alaska Legion Baseball state title game, and finished second after falling to Juneau in extra innings. Ottinger and the Road Warriors followed with a trip to Cody, Wyoming, for the NWCART regional tourney. The Road Warriors finished second again, but became the first Alaska team to advance to an NWCART title game since Alaska started sending teams to the tournaments in 2000.
Popowski, Nash and Ottinger will each make their coaching debut Friday night. Nash’s Knights have the most intriguing matchup of the Week 1 slate. Colony will start its season where the 2018 season ended. The Knights travel to East Anchorage to play the defending state champion T-Birds at 7 p.m. Palmer is also on the road, opening its season at Chugiak. Wasilla is hosting West Valley at 7 p.m. Redington is also at home, hosting Nikiski Friday at 7 p.m.
Houston is at Valdez Saturday at 1 p.m.
For more on the prep football season, see the upcoming editions of the Frontiersman.
Contact Frontiersman managing editor Jeremiah Bartz at email@example.com.