Bateman’s Micah Barker fights for yardage during a preseason game against the W.J. Mouat Hawks. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Bateman’s Micah Barker fights for yardage during a preseason game against the W.J. Mouat Hawks. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Abbotsford high school football teams prepare for 2021 season

After hundreds of days lost due to COVID, three local programs finally returning to gridiron

For Robert Bateman Timberwolves head coach David Mills it was 673 days between B.C. high school football regular season games.

And it’s safe to say for Mills and so many other coaches, players and parents that’s about 672 days too long.

Back on Nov. 15, 2019, Bateman lost 35-14 in the AA quarter-final to Ballenas, dashing their title hopes one year after advancing to the provincial final.

But then the pandemic happened, football activity ground to a halt and it was unclear when high school athletes would return to the gridiron.

It was last Saturday (Sept. 18) that the Timberwolves returned to regular season action, posting a big 38-8 win over the Windsor Dukes. Bateman is currently ranked second in the province in AA play after the win. When asked what he missed about football, he gave a simple answer.

“Everything,” he said, chuckling. “I missed the routine, the competitiveness, the intensity, preparing for your opponent and seeing the growth in your players from August to November.”

RELATED: Bateman falls to Vernon in provincial final

One of the players Mills will lean on heavily this season is starting quarterback Nolan Watrin. The Grade 11 athlete completed 14 out of 20 passes for 138 yards and threw four touchdowns in Bateman’s opening win. Watrin also excelled defensively with two interceptions playing as a defensive back.

Mills said running back Micah Barker will also be an important piece. Barker ran for 73 yards and scored two touchdowns against Windsor. He added that lineman Dawson Hendricks will be a leader on an offensive line that he believes will give Bateman’s opportunity the chance to shine.

“I’m feeling pretty good about the team,” Mills said. “We can do a lot of things, we can run the ball, we can pass and on defence I think we stop the run and play good pass defence. I feel like we’re pretty balanced.”

Mills said AA Coastal division rivals such as Ballenas and John Barsby will be teams to watch, as well as Vernon.

“I think this team is capable of going all the way, but whether we do or not is going to depend on how we prepare and practice,” he said. “If we can stay healthy and be sharp mentally, but I think we have all the pieces.”

Bateman hits the road to take on Argyle on Friday (Sept. 24) and the team’s next home game is Oct. 8 vs. Holy Cross.

Over at Abbotsford Senior, there is a new face running the offence with the Panthers.

Former star quarterback at Abbotsford and UBC Carson Williams is the team’s new offensive coordinator, allowing head coach Jay Fujimura to focus on all aspects of the team this year.

Williams played professionally in Europe, and will be trying to create an offence that can hang with the top teams in AAA.

“He brings a different perspective on the offence,” Fujimura said. “He’s very experienced and when we rebuilt the program about 10 years ago we built it with him.”

RELATED: Abbotsford Panthers celebrate 35th anniversary of title with win

The 2021 Panthers will be a rookie-heavy team, with only three players previously suiting up for the senior varsity team. Running back Justin Menning, wide receiver Ezra Lee and tight end/linebacker Jayden Thind are the non-rookies. Grade 11 Adam Neufeld is the team’s starting quarterback and offensively Manuel Boada is expected to get the chance to contribute.

“We’re definitely young,” Fujimura said. “The year off really took a hit for our program. We were really just trying to keep football alive here, if we didn’t field a team this year like other schools, it very well could have been the end of our program. So I’m glad the kids are back and enthusiastic but our goal is to just get some experience and get better this year.”

The Panthers open the season on Friday (Sept. 24) against Centennial in Coquitlam. The home opener is set for Oct. 1, when the W.J. Mouat Hawks come to Panther Field.

The aforementioned Hawks are hungry and head coach Andrew Harder said both himself and the players are ready to roll.

“Last year was a long year and we have a bunch of athletes chomping at the bit,” he said. “The kids are super excited and so am I – this is why I became a teacher – to coach football – so it has been a ton of fun.”

Mouat is building off a solid 2019 campaign that saw them advance to the playoffs. Harder said he wants to continue the tradition that past coaches have built.

“I want to keep the culture going and have that culture of winning that has been in place since Dennis Kelly was here and continued with [Travis] Bell,” he said.

RELATED: W.J. Mouat Hawks open season with win

Grade 12 Jackson Pratt is the Hawks starting quarterback and he will have several offensive weapons including wide receiver Ercy Avul. Caden Martens, who may also slot in at quarterback, will provide the team with tool as both a running back and possible receiver.

Lineman Austin Berry will be an important piece on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, while Talon Trolland is someone Harder describes as a smart player who will cause headaches for opponents on defence.

Mouat opens the season on Friday (Sept. 24) when they host Mission. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.

For more information, visit bchighschoolfootball.com.

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The Abbotsford Panthers open the AAA regular season on Friday (Sept. 24). (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

The Abbotsford Panthers open the AAA regular season on Friday (Sept. 24). (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Mouat’s Caden Martens finds open field during an exhibition game against Bateman. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Mouat’s Caden Martens finds open field during an exhibition game against Bateman. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)