PORT COQUITLAM — An old saying reminds us that you’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.
In a figurative sense, after taking more than their share of knock-out punches since the start of last December, nothing could be closer to the truth when it comes to capturing the current state of the Terry Fox Ravens.
First, a left hook.
They had certain victory snatched from their grasp in the dying seconds in the Subway Bowl AAA title finale by the New Westminster Hyacks, surrendering an epic game-ending drive that resulted in a 15-14 loss.
Then a swift upper-cut.
In the offseason, its top three rising quarterbacks, including sizzling senior-to-be Jevaun Jacobsen, decided to leave the program and enrol at various prep schools. In total, four players left.
You can’t blame Ravens head coach Martin McDonnell for his disappointment to a turn of events which, unwittingly, has deepened the level of parity at the top end of the Triple A tier.
Yet there wasn’t much McDonnell could say because seasons come and go regardless of which players are and aren’t a part of the equation.
Besides, if the Ravens want to return to their third straight Subway Bowl final this coming December at B.C. Place Stadium, they can’t remain static and wonder ‘what if?’
Still, even without Jacobsen, rival coaches from around the tier still carry the Ravens in high esteem, their votes lifting the Ravens to No. 2 in the Varsity Letters’ preseason AAA rankings.
From Dec. 3 of 2016 to Dec. 2 of 2017, the Ravens went from one emotional extreme to its absolute polar-opposite at the same venue, B.C. Place Stadium.
On the first date, Devin Passaglia kicked a 29-yard walk-off winning field goal in overtime to give Terry Fox a 17-14 win over the Notre Dame Jugglers in the Subway Bowl B.C. AAA final.
On the second, as we’ve outlined, the Ravens surrendered an 80-yard drive over the final two minutes and 34 seconds to the New Westminster Hyacks, who claimed the Subway Bowl title by scoring a touchdown with one second remaining on the clock, before adding the subsequent B.C. championship-winning two-point convert.
It’s hard to imagine any team in B.C. history having experienced that wide a range of emotions from one season to the next, especially when the context is not only the B.C. AAA final, but outcomes which were decided on what amounted to the final plays of the season.
All of this is provided as a reference point to the level of resolve a veteran Ravens coaching staff, including longtime vets McDonnell and Tom Kubada, will carry into the 2018 season.
You can even extend it to a select amount of players, like talented two-way lineman Matt Hewa-Baddege and running back Jaden Severy, who as rising seniors, were on the field at B.C. Place Stadium for both games.
With all that said, the Ravens quickly settled on naming their new quarterback, and Matt Lew-Henriksen, a rising Grade 11 who played as both a linebacker and receiver on the 2017 Fox JV’s, will step in as the team’s signal caller.
“He’s a very good athlete,” said McDonnell. “His spring went well and he’ll play quarterback.”
Key’Shaun Dorsey, the rising JV starter, will serve as the senior varsity backup quarterback.
Jacobsen, however, isn’t the kind of player you simply replace. His feel and athletic ability was, in a way, reminiscent of the way current Calgary Stampeders’ receiver Lemar Durant performed when installed as the ‘emergency’ pivot, leading Coquitlam’s Centennial Centaurs to the 2009 Subway Bowl AAA crown.
Fortunately for the Ravens, they still have enviable ingredients, including a talented offensive line, and a core of running backs and hybrids who can inflict serious damage on opposing defences.
To that end, Cade Cote and Jaden Severy are the names to remember, each with a 100m sprinter’s speed.
Severy, who also boasts the kind of hands to be a consistent threat in the pass game, was forced to pass on the sprint relays at the recent B.C. high school track and field championships due to a hamstring injury.
However Cote, who runs the 100m in 11.6 seconds, and fullback Liam Cumarasamy, another rising senior, were both part of Terry Fox’s sprint relay teams at the provincial meet.
Ethan Shuen, a rising Grade 11 and the younger brother of former Fox standout Matt Shuen, joins that backfield mix, bringing a high football IQ and the ability to line up in the slot as well.
The receiving core, on the whole, is very young. Among the rising 11s are compact but quick Zac Kristmanson and Kyle Huish, whom McDonnell labels as a “multi-sport throwback,” who also dabbles as a wrestler and rugby player.
Rugby, in fact, is helping reveal some finds for the football team.
McDonnell calls receiver prospect Ethan Elliott, a rangy athlete from the rugby team, as the football team’s ‘best find’ of the spring.
Of course, the offensive line is a special group, led by heavily-recruited rising senior Hewa-Baddege who, at 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds, will set the tone from his left tackle spot.
“He has remained humble and coachable and in my opinion, he is the best offensive lineman and one of the best defensive linemen in the province,” says McDonnell. “He should go Div. 1 like Mason Woods (Idaho, Edmonton Eskimos) and he has the same potential as Sukh Chungh (Calgary, Winnipeg Blue Bombers),” the coach continues of two former Ravens now playing in the CFL.
The rest of that group is veteran-laden with five other rising seniors — centre Chaz Marshall, guards Layth Begg and Liam Stewart, B.C. all-star right tackle Mike Evans, and tight end Eric Polan — all expected to make major contributions up front. Underclassmen Brendan Jun (guard) and Brandon Woodward (tight end) also look to be part of the rotation.
Polan’s vast skill set makes him a very valuable part of the puzzle.
“I think he is the kind of kid that can be a provincial all-star this season,” says McDonnell of the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder who will play both tight end and defensive end, the latter as a book-end opposite Jimmy Barring, moving up from the JV ranks.
Hewa-Baddege and Evans will lock down at the tackle spots with Begg likely causing havoc from his nose guard position.
Cote and Cumarasamy should lead the linebacking core, with the likes of Severy, Kristmanson, Elliott, Huish and Kaiden Parks forming the secondary.
(Tomorrow, June 22: We reveal Varsity Letters’ 2018 preseason No. 1 AAA team!)
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