PORT COQUITLAM — When we last left the Terry Fox Ravens, back in early December at B.C. Place Stadium, the PoCo crew was recovering a stripped fumble from within a mass of Notre Dame Jugglers players, setting the stage for a walk-off field goal and one of the most dramatic B.C. championship titles in Subway Bowl history.
Adam Tennent, the Grade 11 defensive lineman who recovered that ball, is back.
Devin Passaglia, the ice-veined Grade 12 who booted the winning kick, is not.
Each year, the question is: Can the next rising class of talent match that of the senior group that has made an exit?
Terry Fox has seen life on both sides and have found ways to consistently be in the chase more times than not. Yet the 2017 Ravens are going to have to be a hearty bunch to absorb the huge graduation toll their roster will take as the calendar begins its turn to a new season this fall.
Still, when you consider infrastructure, athleticism and tradition, perhaps its no surprise that Varsity Letters’ first pre-season Triple A coaches poll gives the early No. 1 nod to the defending provincial champions.
“There is no clear-cut No. 1,” admits Ravens head coach Martin McDonnell. “But I think it’s important that every team have high expectations.”
If McDonnell issued that quote 12 months ago, in the offseason leading up to the Ravens’ 2016 championship season, he wouldn’t have been off base.
But it’s a fresh quote, and that’s because this season, as was the case last season, the top-end of the tier is filled with parity that extends beyond these Big 5 rankings.
No. 1 Terry Fox, No. 2 New Westminster, No. 3 South Delta, No. 4 Mt. Douglas and No. 5 Lord Tweedsmuir, and you can throw in Vancouver College and Notre Dame as well.
The competitiveness remains, and so does the second-guessing about which teams will start strong and, more importantly, which ones will finish strong.
They are about as youthful as we’ve seen in recent years and their biggest task will be adjusting to the speed and increased technique they will face across the board at senior varsity.
The player leading the youthful charge?
Grade 11 quarterback Jevaun Jacobsen ticks off every box with the exception of experience.
“I think he has the ability to throw it as well as run with it,” McDonnell says. “The only caveat is that he is so young and it will be about building his confidence. He is super quick, a superb athlete. He was at some U.S. camps as a defensive back and quarterback and he is already starting to draw interest as an (NCAA) Div. 1 athlete.”
Jacobsen is the younger brother of Corey Mace, who played in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and later in the CFL with Hamilton, Toronto and Calgary.
Jacobsen’s primary target will likely be rising Grade 11 Jaden Severy, a speed merchant whether he’s running pass routes or lining up in the backfield.
Severy played both receiver and defensive back last season as a 10th grader on the senior varsity, and earlier this month finished in the top six in 100m, 200m and 400m junior varsity finals at the B.C. high school track and field championships.
“He is going to be a very interesting piece for us,” says McDonnell. “He may be more of a running back this year but we’ll see.”
Running back Nico Depaoli and fullback Mason Reeves each return for their senior campaigns, as does receiver Albert Aracena. Eric Polan, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound tight end also figures into the offensive skill-position mix.
Oscar Nunez and Tennent are a pair of rising seniors of influence along the lines. Among the young, emerging talent is 6-foot-6, 280-pound rising Grade 11 Matthew Hewa Baddege.
Michael Evans, who saw some senior varsity action last season, along with Layth Begg are additional rising 11s ready to impact in the trenches.
Along the defense, Polan, Evans, Nunez, Depaoli and Reeves are some of the names to watch in the front seven.
Senior Mitch Bye, along with Aracena, Severy and Jacobsen have all the makings of an active and athletic secondary.
Beyond this year’s senior varsity group, McDonnell sees a 2017 JV team which will be largely powered by a group of outstanding talent which this past weekend won the B.C. Under-16 flag championship.
Both McDonnell and defensive coordinator Tom Kudaba have a challenge to mold youth into a consistent and cohesive unit.
And McDonnell knows that along the way, the intangible aspects will also need to emerge.
“Last year our leader was Jeremie,” McDonnell says of running back Jeremie Kankolongo, the Grade 12 superstar who next season is expected to continue his career back east at the CEGEP level. “So who is going to be our leader? Maybe it will be a senior guy for us like Mason Reeves? But I know we need to have our younger guys also step up. We’re young and younger guys will have to help lead this team.”
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