VICTORIA — Victoria’s Mt. Douglas Rams know they are staring head-on into what could be a very special season.
In a Triple A tier rife with parity, the capital city crew head into the 2018 B.C. high school football season this September with the No. 4 position in the Varsity Letters’ Big 5 preseason rankings based on a poll of coaches from around the province.
Yet despite a host of skilled players returning at positions throughout his team’s offence and defence, longtime head coach Mark Townsend knows full well that more than ever, so many are in it to win it.
“I think it just goes to show the parity we’ve had in B.C. high school football in recent years,” said Townsend, reflecting on a season-ending 19-14 loss last November in the Subway Bowl quarterfinals to eventual champion New Westminster. “So many of those games in Subway Bowl were so close and that just makes it that much more exciting looking ahead to this year because I see that parity again.”
Yet things are especially different in one major way when comparing the state of the Rams today versus 365 days ago.
At this very juncture of the 2017 offseason, then-rising Grade 11 quarterback Gideone Kremler, who had led the Rams to the B.C. senior AAA title as a Grade 9 back in 2015, was just four months removed from ACL surgery and on cue to miss the start of the season.
And so last week, Townsend took pleasure in noting how Kremler, now a rising senior, was able to lead his team so confidently through the spring sessions.
“Gideone worked so hard in the offseason and he looked great,” Townsend said. “His leg is 110 per cent. He was fast and he was strong.”
So many Rams, including 2017 underclassmen, were forced to step up when Mt. Douglas opened last season without their No. 1 pivot taking the snaps on a full-time basis.
Mt. Douglas struggled to a 1-3 start out of the gates, losing to Terry Fox, New Westminster and Notre Dame.
Upon Kremler’s return as the full-time starter, however, the team’s fortunes changed.
The Rams went 5-1 over their next six games before falling on the road to the Hyacks in the provincial quarterfinals at Mercer Stadium.
“We never questioned his physical toughness,” said Townsend of Kremler, “and his mental toughness is off the charts. The way he worked hard and competed and wanted to get back onto the field just continued to speak to his level of character.”
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
While graduation tolls around the province seemed to cut deep into what was a very impressive overall class of skill position players, the Rams were fortunate enough to return plenty of their big-play punch.
Kremler’s two prime targets, both rising seniors, are back and both filled with senior varsity smarts.
Dante Carbone and Sebastian Hansen bring size and a host of intangibles to their roles as pass-catching threats.
“Dante is a great receiver and he has such phenomenal hands,” says Townsend. “He has these huge mitts and if he’s around the ball, he’s going to catch it.
“Sebastian had such a tremendous year for us last year and he will be our inside slot receiver,” added Townsend of Hansen. “But he is also a guy critical to our defence and special teams. He’s our kicker, and he’s also an excellent punter.”
Joe Lucas, a rising Grade 11 and the brother of former standout Josh Lucas is another key part of the receiving core.
A host of running backs are on hand to provide balance to the offence, led by rising senior Zairech Kremler.
Fellow senior-to-be Sam Mosky also returns for primetime duty and he’ll be joined by rising Grade 12 Chase Mark, a multi-sport athlete who has not played football since early in his high school career.
Among the rising Grade 11 running backs are Peter Primeau and diminutive Jordan Clark.
“He is a stick of dynamite, ready to explode,” Townsend says of the 5-foot-5 Clark. “He is small in stature but not in heart and he can hide behind our big linemen and be pretty tough to find.”
PARITY AT A PREMIUM
A pair of key developments warrant a close eye, both along the Rams’ offensive and defensive lines, and within their linebacking unit.
Expected to shine on both sides of the ball is 6-foot-5, 225-pound lineman Aiden Bertuzzi, a rising senior with a huge football IQ.
“He just keeps on getting bigger and stronger and he has this huge brain,” says Townsend of the honour roll student. “Going forward, as he gets to university and he’s 6-5, 275, he’s going to be a nightmare to block as a defensive end.”
As well, Townsend likes the development of rising senior two-way lineman Ivan Xu who played at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds last season.
Xu will play as an offensive tackle, but the big change comes on defence.
As his blossoming physicality and mobility has come to the fore, coaches have sensed his ability to morph into a more dynamic player.
“Very much like we did with (DT) Soren (Hallschmid) we’re converting Ivan into a middle linebacker,” said Townsend. “Our linebackers coach Tom Fong does a great job. Ivan has great footspeed even though he’s gotten even bigger (230 pounds).”
Carbone will also play a leading role within the linebacking unit.
In the secondary, Eddy Shala, also a dependable receiver, and Mosky are good candidates to give the Rams seniors at both starting corner spots. They also have a senior in Hansen who figures in the mix at perhaps strong safety.
The defensive line could well have Bertuzzi and Mark as ends, with rising Grade 11 Matt Ounsted and rising Grade 10 Jackson McEwan also a part of the picture.
Of course, as Townsend says, having a measure of good fortune on your side is as important to the cause as anything.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, but we do have talent,” the coach begins. “You just hope that each of the teams catches a few breaks and are able to come out healthy when it all counts.”
Injuries are certainly a part of the game for all teams, yet all things being equal, the stage seems set for another epic finish and it’s one of those seasons where a top-five ranking doesn’t provide enough room to represent all of the teams that appear to be in the running.
If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any other website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.