ABBOTSFORD — The best way to tell the story of the 2017 Robert Bateman Timberwolves senior varsity football team is to first imagine them gathered together on their team bus.
They take a glance up at the figurative rearview mirror and quite suddenly realize that the events of a season ago, especially its start and its finish, were actually the kinds of teaching moments that every emerging team must endure.
And now, as the unranked Double-A squad prepares to open a new season at home Friday (3:45 p.m.) against the No. 3-ranked Vernon Panthers, head coach David Mills is hoping those tough lessons were indeed all part of a necessary learning curve for his senior-laden roster.
“My expectations are to build on last year,” said Mills, whose charges finished 4-6 overall but still managed to grab a playoff spot out of the Eastern Conference. “And not just with wins and losses, but how our program is run and the commitment that the players show.”
Look at the way Bateman started its season, and the way it ended it, and with an experienced group of players back in the fold, it’s not a stretch to say that they are getting closer and closer to achieving a breakthrough.
2016 GAME 1
Just like 52 weeks ago this weekend, Robert Bateman will open the season by facing the Vernon Panthers.
Last season, Bateman built a 7-0 lead early, and then appeared to be on the verge of a two touchdown-lead before a penalty wiped out a defensive major and set the stage for late opposition flurry as the Panthers claimed a 27-7 victory.
“I remember that game because I came off the edge and I got a strip sack that caused a fumble that led to what we thought was a touchdown,” says Brock McCartney, the blue-chip 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior who is expected to be a linchpin on both sides of the ball as a running back and middle linebacker.
“For us it should have been an awesome moment,” he continued of the play in which former teammate Dawson Davis, now a York freshman, recovered the ball and took it into the end zone.
McCartney, fellow linebacker Sean Moynahan and rising quarterback Logan McDonald are some of the key names dotting the Bateman roster.
And if you study their resumes, the main commonality is that of a group of players just beginning to realize their potential and ready to embark on a season of growth.
“We lost a number of key players to graduation at key positions,” admits Mills. “But this will be a Grade 12-heavy team. Our entire offensive line is in Grade 12 this season.
Led by the likes of 6-foot-5, 290-pound Liam McGennis, that’s a great place to start.
McCartney will be the workhorse back, and McDonald, who for the two previous seasons was picked the MVP of the junior varsity, has a cache of dependable targets including Grade 11 Sam Davenport and senior Dylan Roach.
2016 GAME 10
After opening last season with a solid showing against the B.C. finalists, the T-Wolves closed it against the eventual champions in the first round of the playoffs.
“With four minutes to go, it was a six-point game,” said Mills of Bateman’s 26-8 loss to North Delta’s Seaquam Seahawks, who later went on to beat Vernon 35-15 in the title tilt. “It was such a tight game, but in the last few minutes things kind of fell apart. But so many of the (2017) guys were there, they got a taste of it, and now they’re back.”
To add even more depth of experience, Bateman’s JVs lost in the post-season to the eventual champion Nanaimo District Islanders.
McCartney isn’t sure what is behind it, but he sees a different environment shaping up between the holdovers and the new first-year senior varsity players.
“We’re a lot more closer with the Grade 11s this season,” McCartney says. “It’s a more solid friendship and I just want to do my part to bring everyone closer together. There’s talent here. Now we just have to execute.”
A COMMON CALLING
The Timberwolves have slowly developed into one of the very best football-rugby combo schools in the province.
Last season, while both junior and senior football teams made provincials, its same two rugby teams contended for B.C. titles.
The senior boys team, led by the likes of McCartney, finished sixth at Double A, while the JV’s, led by the play of ace kicker Davenport, advanced all the way to the finals before losing to perennial power Shawnigan Lake.
Mills, who coaches both sports at the school, estimates that 80 per cent of the players between the JV and senior divisions, play both sports at the school.
“It makes sense,” says Mills, 34, who played university football at Mt. Allison and York and retired from the game in 2009 after being cut as a long-snapper by the B.C. Lions. “The skills are transferable. You run, tackle, kick. Scrummaging is like getting low and blocking.”
And no one typifies the unique dual-sport double on the team more than McCartney, who has played for both Team B.C. and within the Canadian U-17 West program.
He began playing the sport in Grade 8, and picked it up so quickly that by the end of the summer he had not only made Team B.C., but helped his province win a national title.
As a man for all seasons, McCartney’s sole focus for the next three months will be to invite contact on the gridiron.
But he admits he’s got some decisions to make regarding potential post-secondary options before he dons cap and gown for graduation ceremonies in June.
“I enjoy both sports equally,” he says. “I need to take this year to see what path I want to follow. It’s difficult, but I have wondered if it’s possible to be able to play both.”
And with that, we will let an old-school, multi-sport group of teens get on with their seasons.
But in case you’re wondering who might be a sleeper out there, it looks like you won’t be able to rest on the Timberwolves.
They are back with experience, and they are hungry to taste a level of football recognition the program has not yet received.
And lastly, they spend all of their time together, from fall through spring, playing on the same teams.
Theirs is the total high school experience in every sense of the term.
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