The numbers say that the guys in red from St. Thomas More have been B.C.'s most dominant defence this season. (Photo -- STM athletics)
Feature High School Football

Q&A: STM head coach Steve De Lazzari on the power of Panthers, old-school defence and football families

BURNABY — In the wake of the passing of former senior varsity head coach Bernie Kully, the St. Thomas More Knights are coming off one of the most emotional wins in school history, Friday’s a 15-8 win over the defending B.C. Triple A champion and No. 1-ranked Terry Fox Ravens of Port Coquitlam.

The win knocked the Ravens down to No. 4 and pushed the Knights up to No. 3 in Varsity Letters’ most recent Triple A Big 5 rankings.

On Friday, St. Thomas More (5-0) puts its undefeated record on the line against Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers (4-1) in a clash of two explosive offensive teams at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.

STM head coach Steve De Lazzari took the time for a pre-game Q and A with Varsity Letters earlier this week:

Varsity Letters: Your teams at STM have traditonally been so tight knit. I am sure the emotions surrounding the passing of coach Kully have been new for many of the young athletes. Can you speak to what they are about and how they are learning to honour family through sport?

Steve De Lazzari: I have told the same thing to many teams throughout the years, and this team is no different.  And that is, apart from the time I get to spend with my own family, the best part of every day during the season is the two hours I get to spend with them and the other coaches out on the field. They all faced one of the more difficult and adverse weeks of their young lives this past week, and they revealed their character in a way that would have made Coach Kully extremely proud.  Early last spring they were aware of the predicament that Coach Kully was in so I asked them to come up with a team chant/motto that would address the adversity we would face.  Our pre/post practice and game chant is ‘Together…Family.’ That is what football is all about. Family.

VL: The touchdown Fox scored against you were the first points of the season allowed. No one expects to go this long without allowing a point. I don’t believe I have ever see this at the senior varsity level. Can you speak to what has made the defence so successful and does almost transcend technique in some ways?

SDZ: I have essentially talked about this defense as having three key ingredients that make them so successful. Speed, physicality, and a high football IQ.  When you combine those three things, I think that is what allows them to execute at the level they have thus far.  I think deep down, you could probably add a fourth ingredient which is that the legacy and spirit of Coach Kully, who was the defensive coordinator for the varsity team for many years, and in a way is in a way still living and breathing through them. They all held him in such high regard and I know they will be playing their hearts out for him for the remainder of this season.

STM running back Tyler Eckert patiently waits for his blockers to create seams during recent contest against Kelowna. (Photo — St. Thomas More athletics)

VL: Sam Steele and Tyler Eckert in many ways define what your team is all about on defence. Can you speak to what they mean?

SDZ: There are many teams that can be defined by what I call ‘heart-and-soul’ type players, the type of players who will give everything they physically can from the start of the game right until the last whistle. That is what Tyler and Sam are all about. They are both old school and their quality of character shines through everything they do both on and off the field. They are both relentless in how they approach the game and what they bring play in and play out.

VL: Lord Tweedsmuir has also opened very well, and recovered from the adversity of their narrow loss out of conference to Vancouver College, which thus far is their only loss of the season. This team plays two quarterbacks, has an RB-1 but also another who is very good, boast a cache of great receivers and have playmakers on defence. What is your thought on the Panthers and the overall athleticism and depth they bring?

SDZ: Tweedsmuir, like Fox is a football team that is very well coached and littered with athletes on both sides of the ball. Their line does an excellent job as well. Once again, our defence will have its work cut out for us in trying to stop the two-pronged and powerful running attack of both Derek Best and Braeden Hutchinson. Their two QB’s, (Walter) Dingwall and (Trey) Jones, are both very elusive and extend a lot of plays with their feet.  When you add in the receiving threats they have such as Jaden Simon, Dawson Marchant, and Yosef Drysdale who is very quick, they are definitely going to be a challenge.  They are also very physical, fast and well coached on the defensive side of the ball.  It will definitely be another huge battle for us.

VL: It’s a long season, and if it’s team effort with the players, it also has to be a team effort for the coaches as well. Can you talk about the support network you are able to lean on each week as the Knights prepare for games?

SDZ: Over the past two seasons, we’ve gone from having three varsity coaches on staff at our school to just myself this year. I am fortunate to have amazing support from some alumni and other volunteer coaches who have been just outstanding. Also, the coaches from our JV and Grade 8 teams have been a great support as well. Not to sound cheesy but I couldn’t devote the time I do to the sport I love coaching if it wasn’t for the support I have at home from my wife. As a father of four children from grades 4 through 9, it is difficult to conjure up the energy to prepare week in and week our for the various offences that we face, but the support from home allows me to do just that.

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