TSAWWASSEN — It may be a twist to say, but if the South Delta Sun Devils football team can play with the same unbridled passion and physicality that its senior boys rugby team showed en route to a B.C. Triple A Tier 1 title earlier this month, there will be no counting them out of any equation this upcoming fall.
“We are not a big team, in fact our line will be relatively small compared to a lot of our past teams,” admits Sun Devils’ longtime head coach Ray Moon when asked to provide a wide-scope prospectus on the state of the rising 2018 roster, which rival Triple A coaches from around the province voted as Varsity Letters’ No. 5-ranked Big 5 preseason team.
“But if we’re not as big, we are going to be very quick,” Moon continued. “We’re going to be a fast team. Our rugby team showed us that. Good runners. Good tacklers. All of them able to hit.”
It may seem more than a tad unconventional to compare the two sports, yet there is a method to Moon’s madness.
Sun Devil rugby, which made huge strides into completely uncharted territory this season, provided a revealing canvas on which spectators, like Moon, got an affirming look at just how dynamic so many of that team’s dual rugby-football athletes could be in both offensive and defensive roles. And there were many.
Parlay that knowledge with the fact that the program’s own freshly-minted JV delivery system, once completely reliant on its community-based Rams club, advanced all the way to the Subway Bowl junior varsity semifinals this past November in just its second season of existence.
“We’re going to be carried by that core of (rising) Grade 11s,” says Moon.
The Sun Devils are not used to down years and even though names like quarterback Michael Calvert (UBC), defensive back Jacob Kirk (Calgary) and receiver Billy Matwichyna (Manitoba) are part of a hugely-talented group of graduating seniors, there is much hope for a new tier of rising stars.
NOW YOU CAN CALL HIM BIG BEN
Has there been a player in the program’s proud history who has been touted from as early an age as rising Grade 11 quarterback Ben McDonald?
A member of the senior varsity since Grade 8, he has developed as deep a football foundation as is possible over his past three seasons, the past two of which have seen him playing both an understudy role for starting quarterback Calvert as well as numerous skill positions on the same side of the ball.
Now, for the youngest member of South Delta’s legendary (and huge) football-playing family, his time in the spotlight has finally arrived.
“He’s been able to learn from Grant” says Moon of Ben’s older brother, 2017 grad Grant McDonald, a current rising second-year talent who is transferring from Maine to Calgary for this coming season. “He’s really started to understand the design of our offence.”
And while he is completely seasoned at the senior varsity level, he did get his share of quarterbacking reps last season in leading the Sun Devils’ JV on their extended postseason run.
“With all of that, he is just more advanced at reading the field than others we’ve had coming up from junior,” adds Moon. “From what we’ve seen (in spring) it’s a real smooth transition.”
Expect as smooth a transition from Grade 11 role player to senior star when it comes to running back Andrew Kraft.
Not that he was ever a bit player this past season on the football field, but his rugby exploits verified the punishing nature of his running game, his sure-handed abilities and his level of toughness. And now, he arrives as the most test-ready senior in a 2019 Grade 12 class whose overall depth is a little more shallow than 2018’s.
To that end, South Delta has its RB-1 ready for action, but could just as easily shift him into the slot. The end goal is simply to get him the ball in space, with a chance to make opposition defenders miss.
Evan Paterson, another rugby standout, will bring his hard-nosed DNA to the offensive backfield from the JVs. As well, another rising senior varsity player, Rhys Porteous, brings a scat-back option to the backfield.
Rising senior Ethan Troniak is a receiver of note, and he could be joined by Jackson Bailie, rising from the JV ranks.
The dynamic athleticism of the offence should translate well to a quick and hard-hitting defensive unit, so expect many of the same names to man key positions.
Another player who made a difference to the fortunes of the rugby team when he was and wasn’t in the line-up is rising senior Caleb Van Til, whom Moon expects will be a difference-maker whether playing coverage at a linebacking spot or patrolling open ground as a safety.
Meanwhile, Brett Hauser, a noted thumper at linebacker, arrives ready from the junior varsity ranks.
(Tuesday, June 19 we reveal Triple A No. 4)
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