NANAIMO — Spend any amount of time chatting with him about the near-generation he has spent planting the roots of B.C. high school football at Nanaimo District Secondary School, and it become clear pretty quickly that Islanders’ head coach Nate Stevenson isn’t in the business of complaining about what his program doesn’t have.
Instead, the affable Stevenson’s dialogue is all about the unity, pride and tradition that can be built into the collective group when the decision is made to move forward celebrating the things they do have.
On Friday (4:30 p.m.), the Islanders (7-1, 6-1) will wrap up a very special sophomore regular season within the B.C. AAA ranks by playing host to Surrey’s expansion Sullivan Heights Stars (0-9, 0-7).
A win by Nanaimo District and the Isles will not only celebrate a seven-game win streak, but a Pacific Conference regular-season championship title which propels them to the Big Dance, aka the Subway Bowl playoffs, for a second straight season.
In many ways, it’s an encore to the program’s first-ever Subway Bowl provincial title, 2016’s AA junior varsity title, which Stevenson admits took everyone in the Nanaimo District football family a little off guard.
“It was a season that took us by surprise, to be honest,” Stevenson, 47, said Tuesday from the Hub City. “But then we just started to win playoff games. It was a journey that took us from the third wildcard seed right to the championship final.”
Of course the core of that group, led by athletic, option-based quarterback Finn Bradbrooke and running back Kyle Lindsay have grown into the leaders of the 2018 senior varsity.
Back in 2016, the JV season was highlighted by a pair of results which have helped shape the image of the Islanders moving forward.
NDSS started the season with a 35-0 loss to crosstown rival John Barsby, then came back in the B.C. final to beat the same Bulldogs’ team 23-0.
“That win taught us all a lot about practice, perseverance, effort, want…” begins Stevenson of a win which came against a Barby team located just a few blocks away from the NDSS campus and coached by his older brother Rob. “I think that journey itself has really paid off a lot the past two seasons.”
It has been, in fact, an extension of the head coach’s glass-half-full theme of making the best of what you’ve got which has allowed Nanaimo District to maximize its assets.
Back in 2016, in need of an athletic quarterback to fit their game plan, the Islanders asked one of their talented receivers to stop running routes and instead run the entire offence.
Bradbrooke did it for the good of the team, and this season he has been one of the single most valuable players in AAA football. This season, Bradbrooke sits 13th in passing with 544 yards and four touchdowns, while ranking 16th in rushing with 530 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 7.3 average yards per carry. Combined, he has brought 1,076 yards and 16 TDs to the mix while sitting top five in team tackles with 24 from his linebacking position.
Meanwhile, Lindsay sits 11th in rushing, including third among Pacific rushers (behind Rutland’s Jhavoun Blake and Nathan Hausermann of W.J. Mouat), with 606 yards and seven touchdowns for an 8.2 yards-per-carry average.
And if the Islanders aren’t biggest team you’re apt to line up against, they must be playing above their weight class to be carrying a 7-1 record into the final game of the regular season.
“We always feel like we’re smaller than everybody else we play in terms of physical size,” begins Stevenson, “so we started to look at what some of the smaller NCAA (FBS) schools have done to win, and through that we’ve started to gravitate towards the triple-option type style at Army and at Navy. It’s still a work in progress but we’re starting to move more towards that style of play.”
And while Stevenson is proud of the place the football program has come to hold in the school, he won’t overstate the reality that NDSS is a place of many diverse interests.
“Is football driving the school?” he asks. “No. But we’re a part of the school.”
The Islanders’ Sports Hall of Fame, located near the gymnasium, pays tribute to the excellence of the Raz-Ama-Kaz era of boys basketball in the mid-to-late 1970s when the Kazanowski Brothers ruled the province.
“But there’s also a photo of every football team we have fielded,” the coach says proudly.
Nate Stevenson helped his brother Rob win a B.C. Double A title in 2000 at nearby John Barsby, then he walked down the block and the next season, he started the program at Nanaimo District.
“It’s our 18th season now,” he says. “It’s funny because I have a drawer full of old (NDSS) football t-shirts in a drawer at home, and a lot of times now, I’ll reach in there for one to wear, and it’ll be older than some of the students that I am teaching.”
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