On Tuesday, we unveiled the G.W. Graham Grizzlies as our No. 4-ranked team in Varsity Letters’ preseason Big 5 Double A high school football rankings. 

Today, we get back to the countdown by making a stop on Vancouver Island at Parksville where we visit with the No. 3-ranked Ballenas Whalers.

The Double A countdown will continue through Friday, followed by the start of our five-day Triple A countdown beginning Monday, June 18.

PARKSVILLE — There are two things that longtime Ballenas’ senior varsity assistant coach Jeremy Conn reveals over the course of an extensive chat about the Whalers which sums up why the 2018 season, with some mojo from the football gods above, has the chance to become something special.

“The big one for us is low numbers,” begins Conn, who coaches under the eye of veteran head man Dan Smith. “You just want to stay healthy because so many times, you lose one kid to an injury and you lose two positions.”

The reality of two-way play is part-and-parcel of the high school football world.

Yet it’s when Conn addresses the fact that Whalers also have rare quality in numbers along the offensive line and at the running back position, that you begin to formulate an equation whose answer is simple.

The 2018 Whalers may not have the kinds of numbers which would cause them to be tripping over themselves in spring camp this week.

Yet there appears to be above-average quality in the numbers that they do have.

And so as the roster of a rising junior varsity team which last season lost in the Subway Bowl championship final to the Vernon Panthers moves up a notch in competition, the Whalers are hopeful that a long postseason run is in the works for its preseason No. 3-ranked senior varsity team.

Ballenas cornerback Dawson Orcutt (left, 36) tackles Matthew Reich of the Vernon Panthers during B.C. Double JV championship final last December at BC Place Stadium. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca)

One of the big reasons for optimism?

A cache of running backs ready to establish the run game and afford rising senior pivot Ben Chomolok the opportunity to bring true balance to the offence.

Last season, while Chomolok saw part-time duty with the senior varsity as a Grade 10, senior pivot Ben Robinson led the team in rushing, averaging just over 100 yards per game.

This season, Chomolok won’t have to worry about having to call his own number on too many occasions.

Rising senior Kolby Jack, the team’s top returning rusher, receiver and tackler, is back to anchor a deep and versatile offensive backfield.

“He is one of five guys that can play running back,” says Conn. “We haven’t had that before. There are five guys and they all bring something a little different.”

Jack and second-leading returning rusher Damon Thompson, another rising senior, are the holdovers.

Demar Hohnstein, Adrian Friesen and Steve Boley all arrive from the JV ranks.

“Some of them bring the all-round game, some are small and speedy, some are big, some can catch,” says Conn. “Some of them will give you that five-yard gain when you need it and some are ready to break that big play.”

With one senior varsity season already under his belt, Chomolok has a chance to grow into the position, and his most consistent target will likely be senior wide receiver Scotty Williams.

Vernon Panthers’ quarterback Zack Smith (4) gets a rude welcome from a host of Ballenas tacklers including (left to right) Adrian Friesen (18), Greg Geiger (50) and Demar Hohnstein (45) during Subway Bowl B.C. junior varsity AA final last December at BC Place Stadium. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca)

The second point of pride?

The offensive line is shaping up as a unit which will allow that deep run game even more of a chance to thrive.

“I think it’s going to be our strength,” said Conn. “There’s six or seven guys with lots of experience and it’s one of the biggest offensive lines we’ve had.”

Which is saying something if you go back to the 2003 season, the one where CFLer Justin Sorensen, all 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds of him, patrolled the front lines before embarking on a career in the SEC at South Carolina.

He’s not quite as big, yet 6-foot, 280-pound Matt Muelleder, a rising Grade 11, is deserving of the nickname ‘Grizzly’.

“The other kids bounce off of him,” says Conn who also has top rising senior Zach Mosher as a leader in the trenches.

The hope is that the entire offensive group’s size, athleticism and versatility will find transfer when it flips over to the defensive side of the ball.

If it does, then one of the team’s more intriguing plotlines — the development of its graduating JV talent at the next level — will surely have begun a smooth transition.

“We’re excited because we think we have a well-balanced team with size, speed and experience,” says Conn.

(Tomorrow: June 14: Double-A No. 2; Friday, June 15 Double A No. 1. Triple A begins Monday)

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