Are you ready for some football?
The sight of high school football players flying around the field is one of the rites of the season, indicating that summer is on its way out and fall is fast approaching.
To mark that transition, The News checked in on each of Abbotsford’s four senior teams during training camp.
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It’s somewhat disorienting to attend a W.J. Mouat Hawks practice and notice that Gary Naylor isn’t around.
Naylor joined the Hawks as defensive co-ordinator in 1992, and spent 20 years as Denis Kelly’s right-hand man. It was no coincidence that Mouat became one of B.C.’s elite programs during his tenure, winning AAA titles in 1992, 2002 and 2005.
But Naylor, a former University of Manitoba head coach, has retired from the high school football grind – for the most part.
“He’s still going to help us do some scouting and spotting at games, but he’s not here on the field,” said Kelly, the Hawks’ longtime bench boss. “That’s a big change for us. He was quite an outstanding coach.”
Filling Naylor’s shoes is Jon McCarthy, former head coach of the Mouat junior team.
“I know Jon very well because he played for us here before moving on to play at Simon Fraser,” Kelly noted. “He’s a very technically minded guy who’s got a lot to pass on to the kids.”
McCarthy has plenty of talent to work with on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Taylor Hinton was an all-conference selection last year, and the defensive line – Sheriden Lawley, Nick Westad, Levi Hua and Stephen Munga – could be dominant.
On offence, the Hawks boast plenty of skill-position talent, including quarterback Mario Narte and tailback Maleek Irons. Kelly believes wideout Brandon Barratt might be the best receiver in the province, but he broke his leg in the summer and will miss the first couple weeks.
Mouat lost to Mount Douglas in the B.C. title game in 2011, and Kelly believes they have the horses to make another deep run this year. They open the season ranked No. 2 in AAA.
The Hawks' schedule begins with a trip to Eugene, Oregon that’s sure to be memorable. They play Elmira High School in an exhibition game Friday, then watch Mouat alum Boseko Lokombo and the University of Oregon Ducks take on Arkansas State on Saturday before returning home.
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Last year’s team was special to head coach Jay Fujimura – the seniors were the first group to spend all four years with him since he took over the program in 2008. They accomplished some special things, qualifying for the playoffs and making it as far as the provincial AA quarter-finals. Three Panthers went on to earn university scholarships – linebacker Tanner Storoshenko is with the Ottawa GeeGees, while receivers Jesse Neufeld and Dallas Yassinsky are members of the UBC Thunderbirds.
“Our core group has graduated,” Fujimura noted, “but that being said, we’re not starting completely fresh.
“I think we aim for the same thing we did last year. This team, if they put their work in, could be just as successful.”
Fujimura’s reasons for optimism begin with quarterback Carter Williams, a returning starter. He’s throwing to a solid receiving corps led by Cody Lawlor and twin brothers Mitchell and Cody Follett. Caleb Andres is a star on the offensive and defensive lines.
The Panthers open on Sept. 7 on the road against the New Westminster Hyacks.
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The Robert Bateman Timberwolves were awfully impressive in their first season as a full-fledged AA program in 2011, qualifying for the playoffs.
If their non-conference scheduling choices are any indication, they’re intent on taking the next step by sharping themselves against tough competition.
The AA No. 5-ranked T-Wolves open on Friday (7 p.m. kickoff) on the road against the Lynden Lions, the defending Washington AA state champs. The following Friday, they face local powerhouse Mouat for the first time ever (7:30 p.m., Mouat Field).
“The experience in itself is going to be an eye-opener, I feel,” said Alfred Brathwaite, Bateman’s line coach last season who is stepping into the head coach role this year.
“The players feel like they have a great chance (to win). Everybody should feel that way. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be playing football. They have to get their mindsets straight.”
Tanner Friesen is Bateman’s QB, and he’ll have a pair of talented backs to hand off to in John Beckerleg and Ben Cummings. Cummings is coming off a huge Grade 10 season, leading the B.C. junior circuit with 1,614 rushing yards and 29 TDs.
Defensive lineman/tight end Kent Hicks is among B.C.’s top players at his position.
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Nothing warms Rick Hansen Hurricanes coach Paul Gill’s heart like seeing alumni come back and contribute to the program.
Among the former ‘Canes pitching in this season is Greg Bowcott, one of the top quarterbacks in team history. The former SFU pivot now plays for the Langley Rams of the B.C. Football Conference, and he’s mentoring Hansen’s current starter, Alex Ho, in his spare time.
“He’s coming out whenever he can, between work and playing for the Rams,” Gill said of Bowcott. “Alex has gotten some good tutelage from Greg.
“It’s nice to see kids coming back and helping – it’s key to keeping programs going.”
Ho was set to be Hansen’s starter last season as a Grade 10, but be broke his leg early in the campaign. He made a quick recovery, though, and returned in the playoffs to help the Hurricanes to the AA quarter-finals.
“He’s healthy and looking real good, and we’ve got some good receivers for him to throw to,” said Gill, whose team opens the season as an honourable mention in the AA rankings. “You look at us offensively, and I think we’ll put a lot of points on the board.”
Gill is particularly excited about returning four starters on the offensive line – Harjot Ghuman, Arsh Gill, Kenny Gill and Sukh Johal. Linebackers Brandon Ho (the QB’s twin brother) and Lucas Schwab lead the defence.
Hansen’s first game is Sept. 8 on the road against North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals.