Players soak up the sun, life lessons at Solstice Lineman Camp

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Anchorage School District football players of all abilities put their heads together, literally and figuratively, at the second annual Solstice Lineman Camp Tuesday through Thursday at Eagle River High School.

Eleven players from East, Chugiak and Eagle River high schools participated in the camp, which was sponsored by ERHS, Community Covenant Church, Element Agency and various families and coaches from throughout the area, said Mike Alverts, Community Covenant’s High School and Young Adult Ministry director.

Richard Cundiff of San Antonio coaches East High School senior John Tauanuu at the Solstice Lineman Camp Tuesday at Eagle River High School. Cundiff has more than 43 years of football coaching experience, 30 of which are at the college level. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Richard Cundiff of San Antonio coaches East High School senior John Tauanuu at the Solstice Lineman Camp Tuesday at Eagle River High School. Cundiff has more than 43 years of football coaching experience, 30 of which are at the college level. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Richard Cundiff, a football coach from Warren High School in San Antonio, has coached the sport for more than 43 years and brought his expertise to the event to mentor the teens alongside East High School football coaches Duncan Shackelford and Don Powell.

Richard said the defensive line is where his heart is when it comes to football, but he strives to be a teacher and a mentor to players.

“If I can get a kid to listen and to get a little better or to at least have some information that might lead to him getting a little better at anything, then I feel like, as a teacher as a coach, I’ve done something positive,” Richard said. “If they’ll listen, and if they aren’t afraid to move their body, and their feet, and their eyes and their hands, then that’s going to have carryover value, because they’re going to do that again in a couple of months.”

Mike said the camp theme of “First. Grit. Finish.” was designed to help players develop the follow through they need to be part of an effective line.

Jay-R Hootch, a senior from East High School, practices blocking Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. This is the second year the camp has been offered for players from schools throughout the Anchorage School District. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Jay-R Hootch, a senior from East High School, practices blocking Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. This is the second year the camp has been offered for players from schools throughout the Anchorage School District. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

“The first task is get to your assignment first. If you know what you’re doing, and then you get there first, you’re setup for success,” Mike said. “If you’re there second, you’re just fighting a losing battle.”

Grit speaks to a player’s tenacity, he said.

“You can get beat on a play, but you want to come back fighting on the next one,” Mike explained. “It’s kind of the attitude of not quitting, fighting back, giving it all you have and reaching down deep.”

He said, learning how to finish a play may be the skill that truly defines a good lineman, though.

“Finishing is what most linemen don’t do—a lot of players don’t do. You’ll start a play pretty well at 80 percent and just kind of watch,” Mike said. “The linemen who finish plays are exceptional. They go all the way to the whistle, no matter what side of the ball they’re on.”

According to Mike, lessons learned through “First. Grit. Finish.” training are ones that may apply to the players off the field as well.

East High School Coach Duncan Shackelford demonstrates how to follow through with a play to “pancake” an opponent Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. This is the second year the longtime football coach as mentored ASD students by volunteering his time in support of the camp. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

East High School Coach Duncan Shackelford demonstrates how to follow through with a play to “pancake” an opponent Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. This is the second year the longtime football coach as mentored ASD students by volunteering his time in support of the camp. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

The idea of ‘First’ is there’re just times in life when you need to know when to show up,” he said. “It could be in a family, it could be in a friendship, it could be a job, and you’ve got to show up with your strengths. There’re times when we don’t recognize that, and you get there second, and all of a sudden things are falling apart.”

Grit is a trait many may feel youth in particular could benefit from developing, Mike said.

“People say it’s a little bit absent, maybe due to electronics and all that stuff,” he said. “It’s a valuable life skill of just keeping going. You don’t win everything, you don’t win every play, but you come back and give your strengths.”

Finishing also means bringing your best effort to your personal game, Mike said.

“There’re a lot of things where we set our emotional finish line before we’re done with something,” he said. “Family wise, I could be done with work, but I’m not done for the day. I have to come home and show up.”

Fifteen-year-old Ryan Binniker of Chugiak High School prepares to “finish” a play Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. The sophomore will be using the skills he learned at the camp in hopes of making the Mustangs’ team next season. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Fifteen-year-old Ryan Binniker of Chugiak High School prepares to “finish” a play Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. The sophomore will be using the skills he learned at the camp in hopes of making the Mustangs’ team next season. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Chugiak High School sophomore Ryan Binniker wasn’t on the Mustangs’ football team last year, but hopes the life and game lessons he’s learning at the camp will help him make the team next year.

“I’m just trying to train as hard as I can to be good for next season,” Ryan said during a brief training break before heading back to the field.

East High School’s Casimir Levao is going into his senior year and said he attended the camp to help him take his team to a championship win next season.

“This is my first and last year,” Casimir said with a laugh, remaining optimistic about what he could contribute to the team, despite his lack of previous experience on the field.

According to Mike, bringing new and seasoned players from schools that would normally compete against one another to train alongside each other at the camp can only help improve ASD football as a whole.

“Different coaches in the area bring a lot of different strengths, and then you get that rubbing off on different teams,” Mike said. “In general, if everyone’s better, football’s better.”

He noted that Alaska’s reputation for being the “biggest little town” in the nation also helps set the tone for the interactions between players and coaches alike.

“Any friend you make in Alaska, it’s highly likely that you’ll see them again. Ultimately in life, we’re on the same team, or we should be,” Mike said. “So, building connections for kids is great, because once high school is done, you’re kind of back in the mixing bowl again.”