SURREY — The post-game victory speech Conrad Deugau delivered to his Holy Cross Crusaders’ senior varsity football team a couple of Saturdays ago, was short, sweet and to the point.
It came in the aftermath of the team’s season-opener 22-6 over Chilliwack’s visiting, No. 4-ranked G.W. Graham Grizzlies, and no one was doubting the fact that it was a huge accomplishment.
After all, we’re talking about a Crusaders’ team which in 2017 was not only in danger of going 0-for-the-season until it won its last league game against Hugh Boyd, but came into its 2018 opener back on Sept. 8 against the Grizzlies with just 17 players on its roster.
Yet if you were expecting all concerned to come unhinged in the post-game gathering along the sidelines of Robert DeJulius Field, you were instead treated to an understated moment between a coach and his players.
The team so small in numbers that it couldn’t hold full 11-on-11 practices seemed to have a built-in understanding that their reliance on each other is magnified. And while none of that was going to preclude any hoop-and-holler moments later that evening, in the moments after victory, the bigger picture seemed to dictate that they they stay in the moment.
And that’s why instead of wild jubilation, the quick post-game meeting on the sidelines concluded with Deugau reminding his players that they needed to begin cleaning the entire field, pronto.
“And that includes the visiting bench area,” he reminded them.
If that might not be something a lot of other teams are asked to do in the minutes after winning a football game, Deugau has his reasons.
“We don’t have many rules on this team,” he begins, “because the ones we do have are big, over-arching ones. And one of the key ones is ‘Do the right thing.’
“And with that,” he continued, “they have started to come together. They have started to become the embodiment of what we speak of. They work hard. They clean our field. We’ve got a really small group of guys, and that makes things very challenging at times, especially at practice. We’re not the only ones. I understand that. But we’re going to keep working hard, keep getting better, and continue to do the right thing.”
Those words have gotten a test of sorts over the past 10-plus days since that win.
Holy Cross, which moved into the B.C. AA Big 5 rankings at No. 4 following their win over G.W. Graham, were forced to sit idle last week after having its exhibition game against Pitt Meadows cancelled. Pitt Meadows officially folded its senior varsity program for the remainder of the season as of 11 p.m. Tuesday evening.
Now, with its Sept. 28 AA Western Conference home opener against Parksville’s dynamic, No. 2-ranked Ballenas Whalers fast approaching, the Crusaders need to get some live reps, and get them in a hurry.
Thankfully, the Crusaders have been able to schedule the AAA Earl Marriott Mariners, who were earlier slated to face Pitt Meadows. That game will kick-off Saturday at EMS.
The Crusaders won’t have many bodies, yet their roster has expanded slightly over the past week-plus, supplementing the talent already in place.
A real strength of the team seems to be its active defensive secondary.
“We have athletes and our guys in the back are quite good,” says Deugau of cornerbacks Silas Marchan and T.J. Fujimura, as well as safeties Kaleb Dizon and John Santos. Of that foursome, Santos is the only senior.
Senior Fin Urquart and Grade 11 Jack Lauren are leaders of a linebacking group which helped Holy Cross’ defence pitch a second-half shutout against the Grizzlies.
And of course so many of the same names contribute on the other side of the ball.
Senior quarterback Andrew Hunt, the younger brother of 2017 senior Nate, a two-year starter at quarterback and now on the pivot’s depth chart at Simon Fraser, threw touchdown passes to both Dizon and Fujimura, then rushed for a score himself in that earlier win.
And as he looks ahead to a demanding conference schedule, which after Ballenas includes the likes of Argyle, No. 3 John Barsby and reigning B.C. champion Windsor, Hunt knows his team needs to keep the same edge it opened the season with.
“I don’t concern myself with rankings or the numbers,” Hunt says of both provincial positioning and the number of players on the roster. “Facing adversity has helped us shape our mentality about winning. It’s brought the fight out in us.”
Deugau, whose coaching staff has been fortified this season by the addition of former-longtime Simon Fraser Clan head coach Chris Beaton, loves that attitude.
To him, it’s all part-and-parcel of a group, that while small in numbers, is already showing itself to be huge in heart.
“It’s such a big-personality group,” the head coach laughs. “Every single one of them. Even the quiet ones have a quiet-loud personality. Some would say it’s swagger, but I am cool with it. There is a spirit with this team, and a season with them? It’s going to be memorable.”
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