Through the first four weeks of the 2023 Alaska high school football season, Dimond is the only undefeated team at the Division I level.
The Lynx haven’t won more than three games in a single season since the 2015 season, when they went 6-4 and made it to the semifinal round of the playoffs.
Back then, Chugiak and Eagle River were still part of the Cook Inlet Conference and all the players on this year’s team were in elementary school.
Head coach Brian Yim believes that the strength of this year’s squad is how much they’ve bought into the team aspect of the game.
“There’s not a bunch of cliques or chemistry issues,” he said. “That’s probably our biggest strength. We have a couple smart guys out there that know what they’re doing and can fill in and jump into different spots.”
Continuity on the coaching staff and schematic approach has helped a tremendous amount as well. Yim’s two-year stint makes him the longest-tenured head coach the Lynx have had in half a decade.
“Not having to change systems, running the same offense and defense as last year make things easy to pick up instead of trying to learn brand-new stuff,” he said.
Yim describes the 2023 Lynx as a “young and balanced team,” and leading the charge at quarterback is a pair of playmakers who are capable of running the offense and have the full confidence of their coaches and teammates.
Junior Carson Wingate was supposed to open the season as the starter but missed their first game because he was out of town. In his stead, sophomore sensation and Dimond legacy Cayden Pili stepped in and shined.
“Cayden Pili is a monster,” Yim said. “(He’s) so athletic and he’s just such a weapon.”
Pili led the Lynx to a come-from-behind victory against South in the season opener with a three-touchdown performance. He upstaged his own impressive debut with an even better performance in Week 2, leading the team to another comeback win — this time, over two-time state runner-up Juneau. During that game, Pili was responsible for four touchdowns.
A leg injury Pili sustained early on in the team’s Week 3 interconference bout with North Pole caused him to leave the game early. Fortunately for the Lynx, Wingate was able to step in and lead the team to their third straight victory with a very efficient passing performance that included throwing a pair of touchdowns.
“I’ve got three guys that I feel I can move the ball with on offense,” Yim said. “Each has different strengths and abilities, and it’s nice to have that luxury.”
Pili’s injury isn’t expected to be long-term. The team is hoping for a quick recovery but doesn’t want to rush to get him back out on the field before he’s ready.
With West High traveling to play an out-of-state game last week, Dimond had an early season bye week.
“One of the blessings about the bye week is not having to play a game on the varsity level, so we can rest up some guys and hopefully heal up a little bit,” Yim said.
Wingate will be starting for the Lynx under center when they host the Service Cougars on Saturday.
“I’m confident in both of them,” senior wide receiver Javonte Walls said. “I feel like they both know what they’re doing. Cayden can get out of the pocket, do both run and pass, and Carson has good field vision.”
Reasons for resurgence
Walls credits the team’s hot start to their overall chemistry and all the offseason work they put in.
“Right after we finished our last season, we just started going to the gym, lifting weights, and spending as much time as we could on the field,” he said.
Walls admitted last year’s team had “way more talent” than this year’s roster. But he believes this year’s team has been dedicated to its preseason goal.
“We have a mission to achieve, and that’s to go to state this year,” he said.
Senior running back Dominic Tubin said that renewed focus has helped them execute and be more efficient on both sides of the ball.
“The whole team has come out looking new,” he said. “Everybody wants to win and everyone is putting the work on the field.”
Tubin shared that despite having more talent last year, the Lynx lacked belief in themselves, which prevented the team from reaching their potential and overcoming adversity.
“A lot of times last year, (players) thought we were gonna lose and were not trying as hard,” he said. “We really want it this year, and we put in the work and put in the effort and that’s what’s going to get us our wins.”
Junior wide receiver and outside linebacker Josiah James — a young man of strong faith — said he’s seen a shift in the team not only from a mentality standpoint but spiritually as well.
“The spirit over Dimond has shifted from past years,” he said. “I feel like our spirit is a lot different. People actually want to win. People want to put forth the effort, and if we’re down, we don’t give up. God has given me the motivation to motivate my team and push us to the next level and win games.”