NORTH DELTA — With all of the youth that resides on the current roster of the Seaquam Seahawks senior varsity football team, it’s not going to be a surprise, to borrow from the phraseology of the sweet science, to see the North Delta-based team step up in weight class next season.
Yet as head coach Navin Chand will tell you, there is not a lot easy about taking a young crew of players into the ultra-tough AAA Western Conference and having to punch above your weight week after week just to keep your head above water.
“We are sort of the super-middleweight playing in a heavyweight league,” Chand said Tuesday as the team began preparation for Friday’s road trip to New Westminster and a date with the defending B.C. champion New Westminster Hyacks at Mercer Stadium.
The Seahawks moved to Triple A last season following a hugely successful Double A swan song in 2016, when former head coach Jerry Mullis led the team to the Subway Bowl B.C. title.
Following the graduation last season of twins Jalen and Tyson Philpot to the Calgary Dinos, as well as quarterback Josh Haydu, Chand knew his young-but-talented charges had the toughest challenges of their football careers ahead of them.
And although the Seahawks are sitting at the bottom of the eight-team conference, tied with North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals at 0-5, they have on more than one occasion this season, made things very tough on some of the top teams in the province.
“I don’t know if we’re under-rated,” said Chand, whose team is coming off of a heartbreaking 6-3 road loss on Saturday to a South Delta Sun Devils team which opened the campaign back in September sitting in the Varsity Letters’ B.C. Big 5 rankings. “We’re a good team that hasn’t ben able to close out the games that maybe a more veteran team would have.”
Although no two situations can be exactly alike, Chand offers up a comparison that might not be too far off base.
“Sometimes we just lose our focus, and that part of it reminds me of last season’s Vancouver College team,” Chand says. “They didn’t make the playoffs last year, but they played everyone tough and this year, they are undefeated.”
Like Seaquam, the 2017 Irish were a largely Grade 11 team, and en route to a 1-6 campaign in which their conference point differential was only minus-40, they lost 20-14 to New Westminster, 38-32 to South Delta, 26-13 to Mt. Douglas and 34-21 to Seaquam.
They’re a perfect 5-0 in the West with a point-differential of 129.
“All of this is what I’ve talked to our kids about,” continued Chand, “especially the ones that are back next season. You can’t take any of this for granted.”
Still, the build-up to next season doesn’t ease the hurt for this season’s seniors.
Seahawks’ senior running back/linebacker Antonio Pamintuan, one of AAAs Top 15 tacklers, has been stellar, and as Chand says, has done his best to keep the environment positive for the team’s younger players.
“This is a kid I have coached since Grade 8, who was named to Team B.C. as a running back, and is one of our captains,” the coach begins. “He is the kind of player everyone on this team looks up to.”
Yet the team has not been the same since its fourth game of the season, a 50-7 win over Victoria’s Belmont Bulldogs which was since stricken from its record after the Belmont team folded midseason.
In that game, senior Khristien ‘Jello’ Juatco, the team’s 5-foot-8 220 pound fullback, was lost for the season after tearing both his ACL and meniscus.
“That might have been the turning point,” says Chand, whose team will likely miss the playoffs. “We lost Jello in that game and he was a heart-and-soul kind of player for us. We had just figured out the perfect way to utilize him more as a power back in that Belmont game, and then we lost him.”
The week prior, Seaquam had fallen behind 21-0 at the half to undefeated Notre Dame, but came screaming back in the second half, only to lose 26-21. Then before its 6-3 loss to South Delta was a last-second 30-28 loss to the Carson Graham Eagles.
“It’s basic stuff,” Chand says when asked about what has been the common theme in so many close losses to elite teams. “A turnover, a couple of bad penalties. And when young guys go through that, it’s harder for them to recover. It’s encouraging to know that we can compete, and if we don’t make the playoffs, there are still a lot of things to be learned from this season. I think right now we could easily be a 4-2 team.”
Of course the Hyacks, and then the Royals, will take turns having the full attention of the Seahawks over these final two weeks of the regular season.
Beyond that, the team’s core of rising seniors and Grade 11s is sure to have a burning purpose in 2019.
Wide receiver/linebacker Corbin Grant will be one of the team’s top returning players, along with the likes of Christan Carlon-Diaz, a defensive back who is expected to handle the workhorse duties at running back, two-way lineman Jas Sanghera, and Jay Mather who has gained invaluable experience and presence as the team’s starting quarterback this season.
“It’s just been one of those seasons where we’ve lost a lot of close games, but I have told our guys how proud I am of the way they have just kept going out and competing,” says Chand. “And next season, we will have a core of kids playing for us who have learned from the pain of all of these tough losses.”
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