NORTH VANCOUVER — B.C.’s only undefeated high school football team has an offence so productive, it’s easy to get lost in all the different ways in which North Vancouver’s Windsor Dukes have gone about putting points on the board this season.
Yet as the 9-0 Dukes attempt to cap what has thus far been a slice of girdiron perfection in Saturday’s Subway Bowl B.C. Double A championship final against the Abbotsford Panthers (4 p.m. BC Place Stadium), it’s going to be every bit as much about the team’s ever-improving defence.
And when you cast your gaze on that side of the ball, it’s been the effectiveness of the Dukes’ linebacking core which has been key in limiting big plays.
Ryan Baker and Ben McMichael have played up to their status as senior leaders at the heart of the Windsor defence, and Grade 10 Mitchell Townsend has instantly cast himself as a star of the future.
Yet the return of one of the team’s captains from a condition which was supposed to wipe out his entire season has not only made the unit deeper and more imposing, it’s also verified just how tight-knit a football group B.C.’s No. 1-ranked AA team really is.
Four days before the team’s September season opener, Grade 11 linebacker/offensive lineman Jeremy Sinclair got the kind of sobering news no one wants to hear.
“On Sept. 11, I got diagnosed with a heart disease called myocarditis,” explained Sinclair last Saturday, following his team’s Subway Bowl semifinal win over Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies. “I was told I couldn’t play for six months.”
It was a period of recovery which would effectively wipe out his entire season, and for one of the team’s biggest players — at 6-foot-3, 210-pounds — it was a huge blow.
“I had to battle to get back and I had to do it to be with the guys,” continued Sinclair, a team captain. “I wasn’t going to let it (a missed season) happen. And so I took that, and I was able to recover as fast as I could.”
He was, in fact, able to suit up for the team’s regular season finale Oct. 27 in Nanaimo against rival John Barsby and has since gradually worked himself into the full rotation. For the record, instead of six months, he got a clean bill of health in six weeks.
This past Saturday, he played his best game yet, recording seven tackles and helping his team reach this Saturday’s B.C. final.
“We were really looking forward to getting him back, but we weren’t sure we would get him back,” said Windsor head coach Jim Schuman of Sinclair. “But he is a tough kid, very tough and very passionate for the game.
Having to sit out was excruciating for Sinclair, but through the whole process, he got an even clearer idea of the life perspectives that high school football teaches young athletes.
“We’ve always been such a close program, such a close team, and we all love each other,” said Sinclair. “Julien Perri, Colby Lalonde, Mitchell Townsend, Ryan Baker, all the guys, we’re all so close.”
It has been an interesting dynamic to this 2017 Windsor team, the striking contrast between the team’s dire lack of numbers set against the constant dialogue from team members about the elevated feeling of family they have experienced with each other this season.
As last Saturday’s game ended, both Sinclair and Baker stood along the sideline relishing the accomplishments of the day, but also looking ahead to the challenge of trying to win the school’s first provincial title since 2005.
“Ryan and I were just talking about what we did right, what we need to improve on,” Sinclair said of the chat he had with the freshly-minted B.C. AA Player of the Year. “But then we told each other ‘Good job.’
“I am a little too young to remember,” he continued when asked what he knew about the many B.C. titles Windsor won just past the turn of the century. “But they created a legacy for us and now, we’re doing are best to try to fill those shoes. They’re big shoes they’ve left for us, but we’re doing our best.”
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