The first time he suited up for the Alpena varsity football team, Chandler Bloom admits he was a little nervous.
"I was scared, being a junior and a little smaller," Bloom said. "But after the first game you know what it's like, you progress and get better."
Now as Bloom prepares to take the field tonight for his final high school game, he's ready to go and end his career with the Wildcats on a good note.
"I feel like this game, I'm a lot more pumped. I'm going all out because it's my last game," Bloom said.
Bloom and 15 other senior players will be honored tonight as Alpena hosts Ogemaw Heights at 7 p.m. in its season finale.
While the Wildcats are feeling confident heading into tonight's game, they're up against perhaps the hottest team in the Big North Conference. The Falcons are 5-3 and have turned heads in the past few weeks after beating Cadillac during homecoming and handily defeating Traverse City West last week.
2012-13 Alpena Football Seniors
10David ChenRB, DB
11Ashton DeverRB, DB
13Zach NashRB, LB
14Jacob KlineWR, DB
34Chandler BloomTE, LB
40Bryce Blankenburg RB, LB
42Tyler DeCareTE, DB
50Nick GreerOL, DL
61Dan Blair OL, DL
67Chris Cummings OL, DL
74Dustin SwiderOL, DL
73Phil McConnellOL, DL
75Austin HawksOL, DL
79Ashton BorisOL, DL
77Dimitri HantzisOL, DL
As Ogemaw sits one game away from qualifying for the playoffs, the Wildcats know it won't be an easy game.
"If you look at them from the start of the season til now, they are playing great football. What they did to Cadillac and then what they did to West last week raised a lot of eyebrows, because they dominated that game," Alpena coach Jason Dubey said. "They're playing well, Coach (Andrew) Pratley's got them playing good at the right time, so we're going to have our hands full."
While Ogemaw is only in its second season of Big North play, the Falcons have shown they're far from an underdog. Against West, they racked up 538 yards of offense and got a strong performance out of running back Brandon Benac.
"They're going to be able to compete with anybody and last week shows that," Dubey said.
Alpena will need to move the ball more than it did last week against Petoskey when it gained only 191 yards and struggled to get its passing game going. Dubey said the Wildcats' game plan for tonight won't change, but stressed the importance of getting the ball to senior running back Ashton Dever.
"We're just going to keep doing our normal game plan and we know we have to get the ball to Ashton and try to get the ball to him in space," Dubey said.
Though Dever missed a few games earlier this year, his importance in Alpena's offense can't be understated, especially with the speed he brings. Dever's absence next season will leave a void in Alpena's backfield, but Dubey has been impressed with the efforts of sophomore Jordan Ferguson and junior Dylan Trasher who will undoubtedly see more carries next year, though Dubey said they'll need to put in some good offseason training too.
Jordan's a really good physical blocker and runs the ball really well. Dylan does a great job of running the trap and running inside, but we've got to work with both of them on blocking. It's definitely encouraging with them for the future, but they really need to work in the offseason.
Regardless of whether the Wildcats win or lose, Dubey said tonight will be about honoring the senior class and its contributions to the program.
"It's one of those weeks where, I really don't think it will hit the kids until game time and then after the game, realizing that most of them will never put shoulder pads on again," Dubey said. "It's a sad night for them for that part of it, but it's trying to celebrate what they've done for our program. A lot of them have played since third grade for the Jets."
Along with Bloom, Alpena's other senior players are: Dever, David Chen, Zach Nash, Jacob Kine, Bryce Blankenburg, Tyler DeCare, Nick Greer, Kyle Greer, Dan Blair, Chris Cummings, Dustin Swider, Phil McConnell, Austin Hawks, Ashton Boris and Dimitri Hantzis.