The start of the high school football season may seem a long way off, but Jason Brewer and Daniel Esparza are have already started preparing for next fall. Both men will become coaches in the Cook Inlet Conference, with Brewer replacing Kenny Ray at Eagle River and Esparza replacing John Jessen at Bartlett.
"It's just about getting kids to buy into football being a 365-day-a-year sport," said Brewer, who is already holding weight lifting sessions at Eagle River.
Esparza, the head coach at West Valley the last two seasons, hasn't even moved from Fairbanks to Anchorage yet, but players at Bartlett have already initiated communication with their new coach.
"They've reached out to me in the last month, and they've been great, not just the seniors," Esparza said. "That's the cool thing about social media, I can keep tabs on them on a daily basis. We Facebook back and forth."
The new coaches come from different backgrounds and come with different experience levels.
Brewer, 39, coached in Texas for 12 years, six of them as a head coach, and as a player got as far as making the Green Bay Packers practice squad. He's been a junior varsity coach at Eagle River the last two seasons.
Esparza, 25, is a Bartlett alum who has wanted to be a coach for almost forever. When he was 18, he was Jessen's C team coach. Coaching the Golden Bears is his dream job.
"It's been something I've been wanting to do since I was a nerdy little kid there," he said.
A 2004 Bartlett graduate, Esparza played two years of varsity football as an offensive lineman for Jessen.
"With the exception of my dad, he's been the most influential man in my life," he said. "For me, it's a dream come true to carry on everything he worked hard for, that he established."
Jessen resigned from his coaching duties at the end of last season, after accumulating 80 wins in 16 seasons, more wins than any other coach in school history.
Though he originally planned to stay away from the football program, Jessen said Esparza recently talked him into sticking around to help coach the C team. Jessen said he agreed, but with a couple of conditions.
"I'm gonna stay as far away as possible. No offseason weight room for me, and no camp," Jessen said. "I'll probably stay away from varsity for a year. I want that guy to establish himself."
Esparza brings a youthful enthusiasm to the job that can only help him succeed, Jessen said, and he expects Esparza to implement new schemes on offense and defense.
"I think he's going to do things completely different," Jessen said.
Esparza, who led the Wolfpack to last season's Railbelt Conference title and a second straight quarterfinal appearance in the large-school state playoffs, said he would love to hold the job long enough to challenge Jessen's record. He said the experience at West Valley will help make his transition to Bartlett a smooth one.
"Being a head coach is so much more than just football," he said. "I learned how to deal with parents. I learned the importance of fundraising."
Esparza takes over a program with a successful history but a troubled recent past. Bartlett won its fourth state title in 2009 but has failed to make the postseason since. The Golden Bears are coming off a 3-5 campaign that included several narrow defeats.
"We have probably some of the best athletes in Alaska at Bartlett," Esparza said. "The plans are just to get back on track and start winning games and being competitive."
Esparza will earn his teaching certificate at UAF in May and, although he doesn't have a job lined up yet, hopes to teach history or government at Bartlett. Because he attended Bartlett and spent three years working security at the school, Esparza thinks he'll have a relatively easy time bonding with players.
"We're all a part of a great tradition and it's an opportunity to extend it and keep it going," he said. "It's good for them to see this loser here went through the ranks, walked in the same hallways."
The new Eagle River coach progressed well beyond high school with his playing career. Brewer played linebacker at Gardner-Webb University, where he was a Division I-AA All-American in 1995, and spent a short time in the NFL as part of the Green Bay Packers' practice squad.
Though Brewer prefers not to talk about his professional football career too often, he is glad to share his experience when his players ask about it.
"My time has come and gone. It's about them, now," Brewer said. "I tell them the story about coach (Fritz) Shurmur cutting me. I tell them about that, because it's life. You give 100 percent and sometimes you fall short, but if you give it everything you got, I'm gonna be happy, and you're not a failure."
Brewer, a retired Army first lieutenant who now works in the human resources department for the Army National Guard, plans to pick up where Ray left off.
"We've got about 25 kids in the weight room every day, which is key for us. Creating competition in the weight room is something coach Ray started," he said.
Since joining the CIC in 2006 after playing one season of junior varsity football, Eagle River has consistently struggled to earn varsity victories. The Wolves were 1-7 last season and won five games in three seasons under Ray.
"He was building the program from the ground up, and it's hard to do that," Brewer said.
Brewer said he plans to promote a no-excuse, no-nonsense brand of football that will hold each player accountable.
"It's not like I'm reinventing the wheel," he said. "I believe if you do that and you care about them, the wins and all that will come. That's my basic philosophy."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.