Glenn Nelson received something unexpected recently.
As Nelson, the head coach of the Houston High School football program, sifted through his mail, he came across an envelope sent by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Before opening it, Nelson said he thought it was probably just a solicitation. But as it turned out, NFHS was giving something to him.
Nelson has been named the NFHS Coaches Association 2019-20 Alaska Football Coach of the Year.
“It caught me off guard,” Nelson said. “I sent a screenshot and sent it to one of our coaches, and left it at that.”
But the Houston faithful have embraced their head coach who led the Hawks to their first undefeated season and state championship in 2019.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Nelson said.
Nelson was nominated for the award by the Alaska Schools Activities Association. That was special, he said, considering he’s part of a small Division III program in the state.
“Houston is not a large school. We’re not West. We’re not Soldotna. We’re not South,” Nelson said. “I was pretty shocked. Houston doesn’t always get a lot of attention. It’s pretty exciting for Houston.”
Nelson said he’s not alone as he received this honor. He said it’s a reflection of the team. Nelson said in the past, when Houston mentors have received honors such as conference coach of the year or assistant coach of the year, he makes sure his players know that these are honors for them as well.
“I tell the kids this is a team award,” Nelon said.
Nelson, a veteran high school football coach in the Valley since Randy Magner added him to the Colony High staff in 2002, has served as the head coach of the Hawks since 2013. In his eight seasons with the team, Houston has put together 44 wins and made two trips to the state championship game. The Hawks advanced to the Division III title game in 2016 and won a title with a 41-8 victory over Barrow in the 2019 championship game.
“It really started in 2016,” Nelson said. “We thought that we were doing it right. We thought we had a good program.”
The success led to validation, he said. The Hawks fell short in 2017 and suffered a close loss to Barrow in the 2018 semifinals.
“We knew we were close. We knew we were on the right track,” Nelson said. “We picked up some new coaches and it all came together and clicked.”
Nelson praised his current coaching staff, but also praised those who came before him in the Houston program — former head coaches Mat Bredburg, Norm Bouchard and Todd Whitehurst.
Nelson also praised his players for their work during the adversity-filled 2020 season as local programs put together a prep football season in a pandemic.
“All of these things that were happening away from the field, I really think the kids found an escape and some joy playing on the field,” Nelson said.
Contact Frontiersman managing editor Jeremiah Bartz at email@example.com.