High school football preview: Laying it on the line

In football, the players who account for the touchdowns – quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers – soak up most of the limelight. The big men who battle in the trenches, meanwhile, tend to toil in relative anonymity. In our annual high school football preview, we shine a spotlight on four of Abbotsford's best linemen.

Abby Collegiate’s Andreas Tan

Abby Collegiate’s Andreas Tan

In football, the players who account for the touchdowns – quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers – soak up most of the limelight. The big men who battle in the trenches, meanwhile, tend to toil in relative anonymity. In our annual high school football preview, we shine a spotlight on four of Abbotsford’s best linemen.

Andreas Tan, left tackle, Abbotsford Collegiate Panthers

After starting at centre for the Abbotsford Collegiate Panthers last season, Andreas Tan is shifting over to left tackle this fall – perhaps the most crucial spot on the offensive line, because he’s protecting the quarterback’s blind side.

The Grade 12 athlete is making the transition look easy, and head coach Jay Fujimura believes the fact Tan also plays basketball has been crucial.

“Basketball has really helped his footwork,” Fujimura explained. “He’s done a really good job. I think he’ll be one of the better linemen in the province.”

Tan is part of a senior class that is particularly special to Fujimura, the Panthers’ fourth-year head coach.

“This will be the first group I’ve seen all the way through high school (since Grade 9),” said Fujimura. “I think they’re going to have some pretty good success this year.”

Abby Collegiate is seeking its first senior AA playoff berth since the football program was resurrected after a hiatus, and Tan believes the goal is within reach.

“I think we’ve improved exponentially,” the 6’3″, 205-pound lineman said. “A lot of us have been here since Grade 9, and we think we can go really far this year.”

Other key Panthers include Team B.C. receiver Dallas Yassinsky, Grade 11 quarterback Carter Williams, and linebackers Tanner Storoshenko and Jesse Neufeld. Abby Collegiate opens its non-conference schedule with a stiff test at Rotary Stadium on Sept. 16, as they host John Barsby Bulldogs, the province’s No. 1-ranked AA squad. Kickoff is at 12 p.m.

Dairien Silva, centre, W.J. Mouat Hawks

Analyzing Dairien Silva’s heady play as the fulcrum of the W.J. Mouat Hawks’ offensive line, head coach Denis Kelly points to the senior starter’s volunteer coaching gig with the Abbotsford Falcons.

Silva serves as an assistant coach with the local community football program’s junior bantam squad, and Kelly, the Hawks’ veteran bench boss, believes the experience has served to hasten Silva’s own on-field development.

“It helps his overall approach in terms of what’s involved to become an excellent player,” Kelly asserted. “He approaches the game from a very technical standpoint.”

Silva took on the coaching role with the Falcons JBs for family reasons – his younger brother Lachlan is the team’s quarterback. He concurs with Kelly that it’s been beneficial to him.

“I see the game from two different views,” the 6’2″, 245-pound centre explained. “After coaching, I notice I can read the plays a lot better.”

Silva is also a workout fiend – he’s been in the weight room at least once, often twice, per day since the 2010 season ended. That sweat investment yielded a spot on the provincial under-18 squad, and Silva helped Team B.C. to a bronze medal at the Football Canada Cup in July.

Silva was one of four Hawks on the provincial squad, joining linebacker Jake Heathcote and defensive backs Nathan Henczel and Deion Bain. Those returnees, along with top running back Devin Logan and starting QB Daniel Markin, form the senior core of a Hawks squad that opens the season ranked No. 3 in AAA.

“We’ve got great depth this season,” said Kelly, whose Hawks open on the road against the Mt. Douglas Rams of Victoria on Sept. 9. “We could line up a pretty good second squad at most positions.”

Harjot Ghuman, right tackle, Rick Hansen Hurricanes

One of the more interesting storylines to follow this season will be how the Rick Hansen Hurricanes fare with a Grade 10 quarterback, Alex Ho, leading the offence.

Harjot Ghuman can relate the pressure Ho is facing. The 6’3″, 260-pound right tackle was thrust into the starting lineup as a Grade 10, and he more than held his own against older opponents.

“I understand what Alex is going through,” said Ghuman, who is heading into his Grade 11 year. “In the preseason, your first year of senior, everything seems to be moving way faster.”

Ghuman got up to speed in a hurry last season, and Hansen coach Paul Gill said that based on his play, you never would have guessed he was in Grade 10.

Ghuman was one of the only rising Grade 11s invited to the Team B.C. tryout, which is an impressive accomplishment even though he didn’t crack the roster.

“We’re looking forward to him anchoring our offensive line, which we think will be one of our strengths this year,” Gill said.

The Hurricanes missed the AA playoffs in 2010, and Ghuman believes his team his will catch people by surprise this season.

“I think we’re underestimated, as far as the hype goes,” said Ghuman, who also starts at defensive tackle. “It kind of bothers me, but I know that the teams that are up there (in the rankings), they’re more relaxed. Teams like us . . . we’ve got to work harder.”

Running back/linebacker Jordon Gmur and wideout/safety Harpreet Dhaliwal also figure to be impact players for the ‘Canes, who open the exhibition schedule on Sept. 9 at Earl Marriott.

Kent Hicks, defensive end, Robert Bateman Timberwolves

To hear Robert Bateman Timberwolves head coach Rick MacDonald tell it, Kent Hicks is essentially a little man trapped in a big man’s body.

It’s a compliment. Hicks has the size to line up at defensive end, but he’s also been blessed with the type of athletic ability typically associated with smaller players.

“He has the one thing no coach can teach him – he’s a big son of a gun,” MacDonald noted with a chuckle. “But he’s agile, co-ordinated, and has great hands and feet like a running back or quarterback. He really has skills that you don’t see in people who weigh 260 pounds.”

Hicks, in fact, tips the scales at 280 pounds. The 6’3″ Grade 11 athlete is expected to make a major impact with the T-Wolves this season, after representing Team B.C. at the Football Canada Cup in July.

The Bateman coaching staff got a sneak preview of Hicks’s abilities last fall. Called up from the T-Wolves’ junior squad for a game with the seniors against Moscrop, he racked up three sacks.

“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Hicks said. “It was a good experience. I was going against bigger guys, but I’m a pretty big guy, too. I just tried to use my skill to get past them.”

The Bateman football program made its debut on the developmental Tier 2 circuit last season, and they’re embarking on their first season of senior AA play this fall.

But with a roster loaded with Abbotsford Falcons community football products, MacDonald believes they’ll be competitive right away. Running back Justin Douglas and receiver Jorden Best begin the season on an international tour with Canada’s U18 rugby sevens side, but they’ll be impact players when they return. Senior QB Ryan Kaethler runs the offence.

Bateman opens at home against Moscrop on Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m.