Brice Phelps carries the ball during a drill at a Fairbanks High School football practice earlier this week.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
The Fairbanks High School football team has been in preseason practice for a little more than a week.
Fifth-year head coach Patrick Cotter likes what he has seen so far.
“Practices have really been going well,” said Cotter, whose team posted a 7-4 record during a 2018 state playoff season. “The older guys are where they should be at this stage of the preseason and the younger guys’ heads are spinning.
“One of the things I’ve really liked is that our older guys are providing a lot of leadership,” he said. “When they see things go wrong, they go out and correct it.
“It’s players coaching players and that makes the job of being a coach a little easier.”
Cotter said veterans such as quarterback Braxton Wilhelm, receiver-linebacker Braylon Green, defensive back Gatlin Luke and running back Riordin Stauffer have taken it upon themselves to be more of the vocal leaders.
He’s also pleased the lettermen have looked sharp on both sides of the ball.
“The older guys are already running our offense and defense at a high level,” he said.
Wilhelm is stepping into the quarterback position full-time this season.
He started the first two games of the 2018 campaign while signal-caller Jacob Nicol sat out as a result of a preseason injury.
“Braxton looks good,” said Cotter. “He had limited reps last year and played quarterback in only two games. However, I think those games solidified his confidence.
“Braxton commands the offense just like Jacob and Kyle (Warner) did.”
The Panther boss said he has no qualms about turning the offense over to Wilhelm.
“He’s been given the keys to the Cadillac and he’s driving it like a rental,” laughed Cotter. “His hair is ‘on fire.’”
Wilhelm, like Nicol, will have the benefit of a standout offensive line to protect him.
Cotter said the guys in the trenches, such as Sam Rengert (who has committed to play at Iowa State University), Dakota Key, Ethan Chippas and Billy Reed-Bodey have looked strong during the preseason.
The only real concern Cotter had during the first week of practice was finding another starting offensive lineman and filling a hole or two in the defensive secondary.
“We’ve got some battles going on for those spots,” he said.
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