Hawks players battle it out at training camp. The club opens the regular season on Sept. 22. (Ben Lypka)

VIDEO: W.J. Mouat Hawks 2017 – Rebuilding begins

Hawks aim to replace 21 graduating players with young and hungry team

A young and relatively inexperienced bunch will wear the red and yellow of the W.J. Mouat Hawks senior football team this fall, but they will find out early where they slot in the AAA’s Eastern Conference.

Mouat tangles with two of the top teams in the conference to open the season, as they host AAA provincial champion Terry Fox Ravens on Sept. 22, and then travel to Surrey to battle top-ranked Lord Tweedemuir on Sept. 29.

Hawks head coach Travis Bell, who is entering his third year at the helm of the senior football program, said it’ll be a challenging way to kick off the 2017 B.C. high school football season.

“It’s definitely a tough way to start,” he said. “If we’re able to put things in perspective after those first two games – knowing that they’re two of the top five teams in the province and it won’t be easy – and if we can learn from our mistakes in those games, it’ll be a valuable experience.”

Mouat graduated a monster class of 21 players in 2016, with a handful of those players talented enough to continue playing football at the post-secondary level or junior football level. Gone are offensive dynamos Nelson Lokombo (University of Saskatchewan), Tyrone Baker (Culver-Stockton College Wildcats) and Dylan Manocha (the CJFL’s Langley Rams), as well as lineman Gary Ghag (McMaster Marauders).

Bell admitted the losses will be significant, and numbers are down, but the future is looking bright.

“We lost a big group of Grade 12s and anytime you lose that many seniors you’re going to have a lot of turnover,” he said. “The kids we have are good, committed and positive, but they need to gain some experience and that’s what those first couple of games are for.

The 2017 Hawks will be offensively powered by quarterback Ezra Garcia. Bell said the Grade 12 pivot will be relied on heavily to put points on the board.

“He’s the guy running our offence and he’s smart, experience and an athlete,” he said.

Bell also pointed to the speed of running backs Nathan Hauserman (Grade 11) and Eddie Escobal (Grade 12), who will both get opportunities to contribute offensively. Lineman Ethan Erickson (Grade 11) will be a key player for the Hawks on the defensive side of the ball.

“We have some athletes and we’ve got a lot of speed that we need to use to try and get into some open space,” he said. “We also have a lot of size up front – even though for some guys it’s their first time playing football. I’m looking forward to learning on the fly for the first couple of weeks, and hopefully we hit our peak towards the end of the season.”

Mouat is building off a 2016 season that saw the club finish with a record of three wins and four losses, but fall in the first round of the playoffs. Bell wants to see the Hawks once again reach the postseason.

“Getting some wins and getting into the playoffs is a reasonable goal to have,” he said. “There’s not an easy game in our conference, and we need to stay healthy since our numbers aren’t high. We’d like to get better as the year goes on and then peak at the right time.”

One team the Hawks won’t have to battle in AAA is the Abbotsford Panthers, who have been moved to the AA tier due to smaller school numbers in 2017. Bell said it’s too bad the rival schools will not be competing against each other in the regular season.

“They’ve got all the skill in the world to compete in AAA and it’s too bad because it would have been nice to have them in our conference and see how we stack up with them,” he said. “They should have a good chance to make a run in AA.”

Mouat will renew hostilities with the Mission Roadrunners on Oct. 13, who are now their closest opponent.

The exhibition schedule for the Hawks kicks off on Friday in North Vancouver, as Mouat takes on Carson Graham. The Hawks host West Vancouver on Sept. 15 and then open the regular season against Terry Fox at home.

The West Vancouver game will feature a carnival and tailgate party put on by the Mouat Leadership program, with funds raised going to the Abbotsford Food Bank.

The regular season concludes for the Hawks on Nov. 3, when they host Mount Boucherie.

The junior varsity Hawks open the regular season on Oct. 5 at home against South Delta.

For more information on both teams, visit wjmouathawksfootball.com.

Read next Friday’s edition of the Abbotsford News for a preview of the Robert Bateman Timberwolves senior football team.