It was Memorial Day 2016 and instead of doing what I might normally be doing on a Colorado Memorial Day - playing in my High School’s baseball tournament or going up into the mountains with my family to camp, I found myself sitting in a large U-Haul truck in front of the only house I’d remembered my whole life. All of my family’s possessions were now in this large truck which ironically had a large Moose painted on it and I was sitting in the front passenger’s seat next to my dad as we were about to drive away forever. I posted something on one of my social media accounts saying goodbye and thanks to Colorado and how it had been great to live here and all of that, but how I was moving on for the next three years. To Alaska that is. Alaska. Seriously…Alaska. What? How could this be happening? It must be a nightmare of some kind.
My whole life I had lived in Longmont, Colorado, a great city north of Denver. I was now between my freshman and sophomore year and all of the friends I had…I had had for life. We all went to the same school together. Elementary, Middle School, and now High School. We all went to each other’s birthday parties year after year since before I could remember. We had sleep overs togethers, watched movies, played video games, had all-nighters. We learned how to throw baseballs and footballs and shoot basketballs together. We had all played sports together since the age of 6. My best friend’s dad had been our coach in all of our sports. And our favorite sport? Football of course. Football for the Skyline Falcons. Falcon Red. We bled Falcon Red and we were finally now playing High School football for the Skyline Falcons. Freshman C Team of course, but it was High School football. And we were successful. Very successful. I had been Quarterback for this group of guys since we first played YMCA flag football at the age of seven. We were a tight bunch and all of our parents were friends. Year after year they cheered for us in the stands. And now we were on the verge of moving into JV and some of us into Varsity football. It was going to be awesome, but then something happened that would change my life forever.
My dad had been going to Alaska on vacations my whole life as a sort of personal get away retreat, and my mom was more than happy for him to do it as a way to get away into nature and come back refreshed. But for the last year my dad had been saying he wanted to actually move to Alaska. At first I thought it was just a dream, just him talking fantasy. My mom would have none of it. Until she did. One day she woke up and said she knew we were supposed to move to Alaska. She quit her job, my dad found a good job, we sold our house, and no matter how much I protested loudly time and time again, here we were moving to a place called Palmer. Alaska.
So long friends. So long life. So long football.
I really never thought this was truly a possibility but here I was in this U-Haul truck on a 3300 mile drive from Colorado through the wilds of Canada and onto the foreign wild land of Alaska. Though I put on my best happy face and was kind of excited for my dad to pursue his Alaskan dream, inside I was very sad and to be honest angry. I had played my whole life to finally get to High School to play varsity football for the Skyline Falcons of Longmont, Colorado. Now I wasn’t going to get to do that, and it didn’t seem right. Football in many ways had been my life, my identity, my future, and what now? Did kids from Alaska get any looks from colleges? Alaska didn’t even have real football, did it? What, was it played on an ice rink? With opposing igloos on either end? With polar bears for refs? Was it even a sport? Could I even watch it on TV there? Did they have TVs where we were moving? Where were we going again?
After an eight day drive, we pulled up to our new house in Palmer, Alaska. Football minicamp started in 5 minutes. My parents had raced through the wilds of Northern America driving past black and brown bears, wild buffalo and black wolves to get me to minicamp in time. They knew how important football was to me and part of moving to Palmer Alaska was to put me with a team where I had a chance to play. You see my dad was not stupid nor cruel. He knew I had a future in football and he wanted to give me the best possible chance to succeed. He did his research beforehand. He sent his emails. He spoke to coaches. And what he found was a team in Palmer, Alaska. The Palmer Moose. Coach Rod Christiansen who at the time was on the verge of being the winningest high school football coach in Alaska history (and now is). He was one of two coaches who had answered my dad’s email two months before. He took the time to answer questions, show us around the campus and facilities on a trip I came up with my dad before we officially moved.
Coach Christiansen said his team had a sophomore JV QB who might move over to linebacker and a Varsity QB who was a junior but whose main sport was really basketball. With that knowledge my dad and I thought Palmer High may be a place where I could fit in. Where I had a real chance to play. It was a quaint town with its own sense of personality and pride and it was within community distance in the ‘valley’ 45 minutes from Anchorage. My mom and dad looked for a house to buy specifically within the Palmer High School district and they found one. And we had just pulled up to my new house and I was now on my way to Palmer Moose football mini-camp. The first step into Alaskan football had begun. How absolutely terrifying.
The Palmer Moose knew they were getting a new kid from Colorado. Coach C as they called him, had let them know. A kid from Colorado who thought he was a Quarterback. Well they’d see about that. They already had a couple of Quarterbacks. They already had a tradition. They already had a proven way of winning. While my biggest fear in moving to Alaska to play football was losing my chance at being recruited by colleges, I wasn’t necessarily worried about winning over a team. I knew I could do that. I knew I had what it took, and afterall – hey, I’m from the lower 48, maybe I’d be dong them a favor.
Okay, so I was wrong.
The first thing I noticed were the players. They were much bigger than most of the players in Colorado and they were very cordial. Respectful. Humble. The kids in this small farming community of Palmer didn’t seem self-entitled as some of the other kids I had played with. Palmer, Alaska is a tight community, and full of down to earth types who are tough and they look out for their own, because living in Alaska can be tough. It is a state of extremes I discovered. Two seasons – Light and Dark. White and Green. Warm and Freezing. Life and Death. And so there was a respect for those that would move up to try to live in this land.
The other thing I noticed right away was that they also had very nice facilities. It turns out that the district puts more money into high school football than what I had down in Colorado, so newer gear and less fundraisers was very nice. And a stadium. Our very own stadium with a new field. Something we never had in Colorado. In Colorado we had to play at a shared city stadium. Here the Palmer Moose had their very own stadium. And it was gorgeous. The coaches seemed very interested in players coming up from the lower 48 as there are a lot every year. I was welcomed in by both the team and the coaches and it was a great way for me to start to form some immediate comradery with kids from a new town. After that first Palmer Moose minicamp I saw that football in Alaska was indeed real and I became very excited to come up and win over a new locker room.
I had to earn my respect with my teammates on the field and in the weight room. That's where you get it, for those teammates to see the new guy working hard and focused on one goal. Like I said they're used to a lot of kids coming up from the lower 48. Some stay and some go. I think when the team saw that I was willing to work hard and play for a common goal they started to respect me.
Football in Alaska is night and day, but not in skill level at all I quickly learned. They can play football up here in Alaska. Real football. And a lot of this dudes are massive. Over 300 lbs of massiveness. I even think that Alaska football is more competitive because of the physicality. Colorado is good football but there are very high scores with rarely any defense. Think Arena League. Eighty to a hundred combined points easily in any given game. It's definitely entertaining, but in my mind it's not like the next level. Here in Alaska it's very similar to college in the sense that the games are mainly on controlling the ball and being very physical. In fact the Palmer Moose for three decades had been known as a team that had pounded the rock. They might pass 5 times a game. Maybe that would change with me but I’d just be happy to be part of the success they already had going for them.
That first year I was here as a Sophomore I became the starter of the JV Palmer Moose and it was a good year even though as my dad said in that first game someone in the stands was calling for me to be benched because I sucked and had an incomplete pass. I think he kind of cheers for me now though. Anyhow, during that first Sophomore JV season of mine, I was pulled aside after one practice by the varsity Offensive Coordinator and told I was going to start dressing out for all varsity games as the backup Quarterback. I had earned the respect of my team. I had made varsity as a Sophomore. As a backup, but still Varsity…and things started to sort of feel a bit normal and just a tad exciting.
I had a good season that year and then in my Junior Year, that Basketball-playing Quarterback who I had become friends with told me I got this. He decided to sit out football his Senior year to save himself for the sport he was born to play, and I became the starting Varsity QB of the Palmer Moose at the age of 16.
My journey had begun. We ended up with a slow start, but finished well and made the State Championship for Medium Schools for the second year in a row. And we lost to the same team in the State Championship for the second year in a row. The Soldotna Stars. We beat them in every statistic but the final score. Yep that part of the game is important. But then again they had won over 50 games in a row at the time and well, they didn’t stop that streak with us let’s say. Being the starting Quarterback for a varsity high school team is great, but you can feel like the weight of the whole town is on your shoulders when you live in a place of 7000 and Friday Night Lights small-style is a real thing. But now its my Senior Year and here’s hoping third time’s a charm. If we don’t make state again, yeah I’ll be bummed. Who wouldn’t?
That being said the great thing I should mention about football in Alaska is the media exposure is huge here as football in Alaska means a lot to people and the attendance at games is very large. There are no Denver Broncos up here. In Colorado there are so many schools and so many games at once that the media exposure is little to none. Here I was on TV all the time. Local ABC, CBS, NBC. Interviews with newspapers, my name and highlight videos every Friday night during the sports sections of the news. Radio sports talk shows calling me the best Quarterback in the Valley and perhaps the greatest the Palmer Moose had ever seen. But was that really even a compliment? A big fish in a little pond?
I learned of course it was a compliment and I should take it as such. This was indeed real football in Alaska. Good football. This was much more like professional football with real defenses, much bigger players, much more pressure to carry an entire town’s hopes and dreams. Oh, and real coaches, too. These weren’t coaches who had never been out of the state of Alaska before. All of the coaches on our staff at the high school have played college football at some level, mostly at Division 1. Our OC was a standout Offensive Lineman at North Dakota State. As I mentioned already our head coach is the now winningest high school coach in Alaska history and he is always going to speeches from college coaches and keeping up with the current game. Football in Alaska is very idolized. People are willing to donate large amounts money to the football program and that's why there are multi million dollar stadiums up here. That didn’t happen where I was from in Colorado.
So those are some of the perks. A great team, real football, experienced smart coaches, lots of local media exposure, lots of local support and money to fund the sport. Oh right… and the travel, too. Lots of travel around the state. The state is broken into conferences by size of student population. Large, Medium, Small. Or D1, D2, D3 as they call it now. For the Palmer Moose being a school with an enrollment of between 501 and 999 students, that makes us a D2 school, and so we often travel hundreds of miles to beautiful places around the state to play other D2 schools. Through mountains in busses. On planes to islands full of brown bears. Didn’t get to do that too often in Colorado. Perk. Check.
Now for the not-so-perky parts. The disadvantages. Why would reading an article by a 17 year old Senior playing football in Alaska looking for a chance at a college opportunity even be interesting and unique unless I was writing about something people were so surprised even existed? Exactly. So what are the disadvantages?
The seasons. The season is short with 8 games. Maybe 9 or 10 if you make the playoffs. We start the high school football season the earliest in the U.S. and we end the earliest in the U.S. around mid October if you are lucky enough to make it to the state championship. It gets cold, it gets dark, it gets windy. Way too early. Colorado has 300 days of sun. Palmer, Alaska? Um…yeah…not so much. The weather in Alaska IS the 12th man.
Another big disadvantage that I am experiencing now during my Senior Year as Varsity Quarterback in Palmer Alaska is exposure to colleges. The big ones at least. I should mention we do have an amazing camp each year called the All Alaska Camp and it is fantastic with lots of D2, NAIA, JuCo and good high school coaches running it. I did learn a lot and I did receive a lot of exposure there with many of the coaches expressing a desire to watch my Senior film and talking to me after the season. That was great and good things did and will come out of that for my future, and who knows if I would have gotten that sort of exposure to that many colleges in Colorado at one camp.
Oh and I should say that this past June I did win first team All Alaska Camp QB against all of the High School Quarterbacks in the state of Alaska. That was a big honor. Its not something to take lightly because the talent in Alaska isn’t that good. No, in fact the talent is great here in Alaska and those other high school QBs I beat out for that honor are very good. So I’m humbled by that. But will that be enough? To go as far as I want?
The plain fact of the matter is outside of the All Alaska Camp and my awesome Palmer Moose coaches contacting the colleges they’ve sent former players onto, there isn’t any exposure to the big schools. No one has even HEARD of football in Alaska.
No matter how much media attention, or how many TV clips are played or how many times my name is mentioned on Anchorage TV (300,000 viewers, mind you) or a local radio sports show or what kind of amazing experienced former D1 playing coaches I have, well…I'm definitely still at a disadvantage with being in Alaska as a high school quarterback. It’s just so far away from the lower 48. And there are too many misconceptions that good football, in fact great football, would be played in Alaska. And yes, Hudl is a great tool for me when college coaches want to see my film, but they never actually get to see games in person. That is a huge disadvantage. Aside from the great college coaches I worked with up at camp, will any other colleges in the mainland USA even know I exist?
I am having to revert to sending out email after email and tweet after tweet trying to get the attention of the bigger schools with subjects such as “voted #1 QB in the state of Alaska!” and then thinking wow, they probably kind of find that funny, like so…..what? Isn’t Alaska part of Russia now?
So to get the exposure I want, I have to pound the pavement. Contacting schools, getting my name out there, my Hudl link out there. My Palmer Coaches have done a fantastic job of getting my name out to the schools they have good relationships with, and I am eternally thankful, but if I want to go beyond D2 or NAIA, all of which are great mind you…if I want to even try to go D1, I am facing mountains greater than those I stare out my back window at. I’ve got to create something viral, get one, just one offer and maybe my 247sports profile will finally get a star or two and teams in the lower 48 will start to take notice. That would be great, but will that even happen because I’m tucked up here in this part of the earth covered in ice and riddled with penguins? Or so they might think. Oh and we have no penguins in Alaska. They live down south.
My only big wish I have in moving from Colorado to come play High School football in Alaska is I wish college coaches from the lower 48 mainland could come and see how big the players are and how physical and fast the game is. And how tough deep down these guys are. How supported this sport is by the fans. And how very real it is. How very, very similar to the next level and a very physical version of high school football it is.
So in my Senior Year of being #7 the Varsity QB for your Palmer Moose, yeah, I just wanna be the best football player I can be. Remember when I said we’ve been the State runner-up the past two years to a team that up until that time had won near 60 in a row? Yeah, I want to beat them in state this year. The walk off. That’d be great.
But I’d also love to go on and become a very successful football player at the next level. I think I kind of have what it takes. We will see. I have some opportunities, that’s for sure. Alaskan football has given me lots of opportunities that I never would have had in Colorado, but will it give me the ONE I really want? Only time will tell. Hopefully I’ll convince someone. Hopefully maybe they’ll read this and give me a shot and look at my film and forget the Alaska biases or ignorance they may have. Hopefully I’ve explained how a kid from Colorado who has played football his whole life came up here to this huge, wild bear-riddled state and has been witness to the real tough gritty football that truly exists here. Trust me. It’s not polar bears or penguins or igloos or Santa or magic elves. It’s the real deal. And a fantastic place. Oh, you might hit a moose on the way to practice, but that literally comes with the territory. It’s still good ol’ American Football.
And dang if I sure don’t miss playing with my boys I grew up with in Colorado. They’ve replaced me at QB with one of my best friends growing up of course and they are still very successful as well, and I wish them nothing but the absolute best. I know they’ll own it this year. I just wish I had one more game to play with them, knowing I’d be trading in the red of Skyline High of Longmont for the blue of the Palmer High Moose. Both teams have made me the player I am. Both teams are filled with guys I’ve gone to battle with and would fight to the death for, both with amazing coaches I’ve learned so much from.
I’m a Colorado kid through and through, with Falcon red blood in his veins who now has been given the amazing honor of coming up here to the land of equally real American football to lead a group of honorable men I go to battle with week after week– the Mighty Moose of Palmer High. And now I’m starting to bleed quite a lot of blue, in fact. It’s like when Peyton Manning joined the Broncos after the Colts. Or Drew Brees the Saints after the Chargers. That’s me. Luke Guggenmos. Once a Falcon, now a Moose. It’s been a whole lot of fun and I’ve been blessed to be on two great teams, 3000 miles apart from each other, playing the same game and dreaming the same dream that every 6 year old boy who ever tossed his first little football into the air does. I’m a blessed guy and I am a football player whether I’m in red or whether I’m in blue. Football knows no boundaries.
My 24/7 Recruiting Page
My Hudl Page