SURREY — The best thing about benchmark moments is that while they so often begin in anonymity, they can, through their power of perspective, come to define the essence of the so-called big picture.
That’s the best way to explain what happened four seasons ago at Richmond’s stormy, frigid Minoru Park after a two-point loss in the Subway Bowl quarterfinals prompted a coach and his Grade 9 call-up, a kid who that day saw all of one special teams snap, to sit on a locker room bench and talk about the moment.
“It was a heartbreaking loss,” remembers Lord Tweedsmuir co-head coach Kurt Thornton after his Panthers dropped a 9-7 loss to the eventual B.C. champion South Delta Sun Devils. “And it was a miserable day. Windy. Rainy. Just an awful day.
“We had out opportunities, too, and Derek saw all of that,” continued Thornton of Derek Best, on that day a first-year JV call-up and reserve linebacker, but now a senior running back who leads all of B.C. AAA football in rushing yardage. “He saw how it affected our seniors that day, and I can remember sitting down and talking with him about it.”
That’s a chat, which this week especially, reeks with perspective.
On Saturday (2:30 p.m., B.C. Place), Best and the rest of the Panthers’ seniors lead their team into the same round quarterfinal round of the post-season against, as happenstance dictates, the same Sun Devils’ program.
“I remember telling him how he couldn’t forget about this,” continued Thornton, “that he needed to understand the magnitude of a senior varsity season, and how we didn’t want it to end like this. Looking at him that day, I think he was taken aback by it, by how much it meant to the (seniors) especially, with the realization that for most of them, they were finished with football.”
That theme runs true through the huddles and locker rooms of each of the 16 AA and AAA senior varsity programs that have been able to carry a pulse into their respective tier’s round of Final 8.
And when you ask Best about it, the moment still strikes him as larger than life.
“It was crazy getting to the (pre-game) locker room and seeing all of these big seniors, so focused and so ready for the game,” Best begins. “It was cool to see what the atmosphere was like at that level. I can say it was a little scary and a little intimidating, but for the most part I just thought how exciting it was to be in that atmosphere.”
Like we said, benchmark moments have a way of gaining significance through the passing of time.
Come Saturday, when the time comes to run put of the tunnel and onto the turf at B.C. Place, a part of Best will be that ninth-grade kid, focused but appreciating in the moment what he has his fellow Class of 2018 teammates have done to help elevate the program the past few seasons.
And of course, all of the seniors playing Saturday arrive at this sudden-elimination stage of their high school careers with their own favourite moments.
“For me, Grade 10, starting at linebacker, but we had some injuries in the preseason and we’re playing against Abbotsford in the preseason,” Best begins. “First play and I am covering (Notre Dame’s) Chase Claypool. That was cool. He gave me a nice shot, and I was like ‘this is what senior football is all about.’ I have never seen an athlete as good as that.”
Last season, his first sitting atop the death chart at running back, Best only got to play in seven games after injuring his hip against Centennial.
Nonetheless, he still rushed 104 times for 1,222 yards and 12 touchdowns.
This season, through nine games on a team filled with weapons, he has been especially deadly in the red-zone, carrying 110 times for 1,176 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Both he and Grade 11 standout Braeden Hutchinson will occupy a lot of attention from the South Delta defence as the Tsawwassenites scheme to stop the pair come Saturday.
Of course any RB-1 worth his salt will want the members of his offensive line to get the credit they deserve, and Best is no different because Cole Irwin, Michael Hampton, Ryan Rapske, Addison Sadler and Noah Bedard have been that good this season.
“I think we pass enough to force teams to defend it,” adds Thornton, “and that is good for the running game. They can’t load the box and focus solely on that. It makes it hard to stop the run and we have a really good offensive line.”
In Saturday’s pre-game run-up, that moment between coach and player from back in the 2014 season truly gains its benchmark status.
It’s a span which has equaled that of an entire high school football career for a kid who took his lessons to heart as a youngster and now imparts the same as an elder.
Of course for every team this weekend, it’s all about trying to win three games in three weeks, one week at a time.
Derek Best understands these simple but challenging rules of engagement.
“I have been playing football for 12 years and I have never won a championship in my life,” he says. “So all of this really means a lot. Football has pretty much been my whole life.”
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