Mission's Tanner Alward looks to make a move in a recent game against Surrey's Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers. (Varsity Letters photo by Howard Tsumura) (Varsity Letters photo by Howard Tsumura)
High School Football

Mission’s football transition: Boosted population, determined coaches bring purpose to Roadrunners AAA move

MISSION — It’s noon hour at Mission Secondary, and Danny Jakobs has his Roadrunners are watching film of their next opponent. 

“My philosophy has always been that you play the best if you want to be the best,” the head coach of the senior varsity explains as preparations are underway to host the powerhouse AAA No. 4-ranked Terry Fox Ravens on Saturday (1:30 p.m.).

“You have to take your lumps and we have another tough one this week,” Jakobs continued. “The kids here know that you don’t always win at everything in life. That’s how we roll.”

It’s exactly the slice of unrepentant realism required when you attempt to usher a successful AA program into the ranks of the unforgiving AAA Eastern Conference.

And as the voice of his school’s program, it’s easy to see that Jakobs, now into the second season of that transition, has embraced the challenge with gusto.

A restructuring in Mission has seen both Heritage Park and Hatzic secondary schools transformed into middle schools, with the senior population of those schools, plus its own catchment base feeding into what is now a Grade 10-12 Mission Senior Secondary.

“We’re now over 1,300 kids from Grades 10-to-12,” says Jakobs. “We’re a big school. Everybody thinks big equals good. It equals more opportunities to get good athletes, but you still have to create football players and that is a slow process.”

There is also the hands on challenge of making sure Grade 9s at the two middle schools are aware of their place within Mission’s JV program.

Yet overall, this Grade 10-to-12 throwback, coming straight out of the 1980s, make Mission a unique program. And if Jakobs and his staff invest the same kind of time and care they did into Mission’s AA start-up years, success seems a certainty.

Jakobs and Kevin Watrin spearheaded efforts in 2003 to make Mission a football contender, and those efforts not only yielded a B.C. title in 2011, but two other championship game appearances. As well, the school’s JV team won a AA title in 2012 and played in a total of five B.C. finals.

Mission head coach Danny Jakobs (centre) is leading the Roadrunners through some rough early waters as the school’s football program transitions to AAA. (Varsity Letters photo by Howard Tsumura)

“It’s been really similar to when we started the program in 2003 because you know it’s all a process,” says Jakobs, whose team was 1-6 in the conference last year at AAA with a minus-192 point differential but is already 2-2 this season with a minus-30 differential.

“Our numbers are good,” he continued. “We’re at about 35 (players) on the varsity side and about 30 with junior varsity. The only thing we don’t have right now are the true game-changing type players we’ve had in the past. But we do have kids coming up that we are very excited about.”

As is the case with any provincial-contending program, the bar for talent gets set pretty high.

In the case of Mission, it’s finding players like Jesse Walker (Manitoba), Evan Horton (UBC) and Kevin Wiens (ex-UBC) who were among the very best in the province at their positions during their high school careers before going on to become very productive players at the U Sports level.

“The big difference between AA and AAA is everyone is bigger, faster and stronger up here, and those game-changing players? The good ones up here have three to five of them on every team.”

But that’s not to say that Mission hasn’t gotten excited about some of its current stars, guys like cornerback Shawn Mann, running back Keegan Royal and quarterback Hamen Gill, who among others, are helping to shepherd the team through its transition to AAA.

“All of the all-star awards, the championship pictures, they’re all in the dressing room and on the wall of fame,” said Jakobs of the AA glory days. “And guys like Jesse and Evan have come back to talk to the boys, to help them understand the tradition we have.”

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