NEW WESTMINSTER — There is no denying the fact that as spring camp comes to a close in the Royal City, the hometown Hyacks have plenty of reasons for optimism.
There’s a roster which last season, en route to a Final Four finish, cast underclassmen in key roles, a vital piece of acclimatization which has them ready to shoulder even bigger roles this season.
And remember, this is a rising senior class which two seasons ago, won the B.C. junior varsity Triple A title.
Yet there is also that old adage of strength coming in numbers, and in the case of the Hyacks, it’s a theme that sits at the very centre of their story.
“That is our challenge, to make sure we’re good at all 22 (positions) and that we have depth and competition across the board,” said Hyacks head coach Farhan Lalji, whose team enters the Varsity Letters preseason Big 5 Triple A rankings at No. 2. “With our numbers, that is a challenge. We have to find depth. We can’t have 11 guys all starting both ways.”
And that is why the team’s recently concluded spring camp, as well as its upcoming fall camp will be huge opportunities for the unheralded to claim vital roles on a title-contending team.
New Westminster starts on offence with a familiar face back in charge of the huddle.
Kinsale Phillip scaled a big learning curve last season as the senior varsity’s Grade 10 starter.
Now, after a season of putting a lot of raw skills on display, Lalji is hoping the process enters an important phase of refinement beginning in September.
“Kinsale has a college football arm, absolutely no doubt about it,” says Lalji, who last season watched the mobile pivot pass for 801 yards and six touchdowns, but with a completion percentage of 49%.
“He’ll make some throws that are Div. 1 throws, but can do it all time?” the coach continued. “Consistency needs to happen. He’s always had the physical tools but maturity was needed and he is slowly going in the right direction.”
For the Hyacks’ offence, and for Phillip in particular, there will be more of an emphasis, from the perspective of a run-based team, on the passing game.
The Hyacks threw it 34 per cent of the time in 2015, but dipped down to 21 per cent last season.
Said Lalji: “We need to be into the high 30s.”
And although the receiving core is not Triple-A Western Conference proven, it looks ready to take advantage of the opportunities that will come with an explosive running game and quality returnees along the offensive line.
Newcomer Sebastian Reid and returnee Severio Asaba, who spent most of his time last season as a cornerback, are a pair of key seniors.
As well, rising Grade 11s Arjun Bal and Zachery Northgraves, each making the climb from the JV squad, will play a part with the group.
Broxx Comia, another rising Grade 11 who last season was a key member of the senior roster as a running back, is a very natural receiver.
And speaking of that ground game?
It’s three-headed, it’s versatile and it’s veteran laden within the team’s unique Wing-T formation.
Leading the way is rising senior Sammy Sidhu, the 6-foot, 180-pounder who as a JV in 2015 rushed for almost 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
“When Sammy is healthy he is as good as anybody in B.C.” said Lalji. “Last year he got a high ankle sprain early and he was never right the whole year. If I had done it right, I would have kept him out for a month.”
As it was, Sidhu still averaged 9.4 yards-per-carry, toting just 60 times over 10 games for 561 yards and eight touchdowns.
Sidhu loves to play a physical, smash-mouth style, so his durability is an absolute key for the Hyacks.
The other senior within the running back troika is 5-foot-10, 200-pound Lucas Sabau.
The former JV pivot led the senior varsity squad in rushing with 991 yards, carrying at a 7.6 YPC clip and scoring nine touchdowns in the process. Sabau was so effective from his spot as a fullback last season that he’ll force the team to remain under centre for its fair share of snaps.
“He is bigger and stronger now, and he has maintained his speed,” said Lalji. “He has been a real find.”
And Comia, slippery and elusive, is the third member of the blue-chip backfield.
At 5-foot-11, 155 pounds, he is slighter than the others, but has moves a aplenty. In addition to his pass-catching skills, he carried for 491 yards and six touchdowns, averaging an impressive 8.3 YPC.
Phillip is also in the mix to call his own number.
Of course the success of the entire operation will hinge on line play, and New Westminster has solid experience returning on both sides of the ball, led by Yanni Angelopoulos (5-10, 240) and Isaiah James (5-11, 270), a pair of rising seniors, who will set the bar for the rest of the two units.
“That is where we have greatest depth,” said Lalji. “We’ve got a fair number of bodies and a number of guys will contribute. Our challenge is to try to get everyone up to the level of (James and Angelopoulos).”
Evan Nolli (6-2, 245), a rising Grade 11, is a name to watch, as are rising seniors Anthony Dillman (5-10, 230) and Finn Stark (6-1, 190), the latter a tight end who may help anchor the defence as a part of the linebacking core. Justice Champagne (6-7, 300), a rising 11, is returning to the program after taking a season away.
The linebacking group will likely feature both Sabau and Sidhu on the inside. QB Phillip may also partake, while rising Grade 10 Shaye Rathjen, a running back hopeful, could also join the mix.
The secondary will likely see Comia, Reid and newcomer Taran Birdi in a rotation on the corners. Asaba, Ball and Northgraves are among the names set to contend for spots in the interior of the defensive backfield.
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