The four coaches guiding their teams into Saturday's Subway Bowl semifinals (clockwise from top left) Terry Fox's Martin McDonnell, Todd Bernett of Vancouver College, New Westminster's Farhan Lalji and Mark Townsend of Mt. Douglas, speak to what they feel are common threads running through the four programs. (Photos by Howard Tsumura property of 2018. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Football

The Power of Four: Saturday’s quartet of AAA Subway Bowl semifinalists have won seven of last eight B.C. titles! So what’s their secret?

VANCOUVER — The. Mt. Douglas Rams have set the most recent bar of excellence within the senior varsity ranks of B.C. high school football. 

Yet the three other teams which join the Victoria juggernaut Saturday in the Subway Bowl AAA semifinal round at B.C. Place Stadium help give the 2018 Final Four a unique distinction.

If you exclude 2014 when the South Delta Sun Devils were crowned champs, seven of the last eight AAA championships have been won by the four teams in this season’s semifinal round.

2017 — New Westminster Hyacks

2016 — Terry Fox Ravens

2015 — Mt. Douglas Rams

2014 — South Delta Sun Devils

2013 — Mt. Douglas Rams

2012 — Mt. Douglas Rams

2011 — Mt. Douglas Rams

2010 — Vancouver College Fighting Irish

So what’s been the common thread in four Rams’ titles, as well as one apiece from New Westminster, Terry Fox and Vancouver College.

Varsity Letters asked the same question of our four surviving Triple A coaches. Here are their responses:

New Westminster head coach Farhan Lalji with starting quarterback Kinsale Philip. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2018. All Rights Reserved)


“The common denominators on those teams is talent,”says Hyacks head coach Farhan Lalji, whose team won its first Subway Bowl senior title last season, “but also a belief in what your program is doing. Whether it’s guys like Marcus Davis (Mt. Douglas), Christian Covington (Vancouver College), Jeremy Kankolongo (Terry Fox) or Sammy Sidhu (New Westminster), those teams had a depth of talent.

“But those programs also have had a run of consistency that allow the players to buy in that they belong in those big games, and the games and moments don’t become too big for them. Mt. Douglas has had the ultimate run of consistency in this decade, none of us can boast that many championships, but for us this is our fourth straight trip to the final four and our players get excited for these big games.”

Of course no two teams are ever alike, and while past championship editions provide inspiration, they also offer a reference point for current ones to study.

“Last year’s team went undefeated,” Lalji says of the 2017 Hyacks, “but the challenges were different when you’re ranked No. 1 and expected to win.

“What that team was able to do that was so important was always being able to make the big play at the big moment. The biggest difference for us this year is that we are playing our best football now. We showed a level of resiliency getting through our very tough Western Conference schedule and staying positive despite some close loses to great teams. Now we’re healthy and the belief is very high at the most important time of the year.”

Terry Fox Ravens’ head coach Martin McDonnell watches the seconds tick off the clock in his team’s quarterfinal win last Saturday over Notre Dame. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2018. All Rights Reserved)


Terry Fox coach Martin McDonnell speaks for his fellow head coaches in stressing the importance of being able to find the rarest of commodities, and that is a staff of position coaches who are willing to dedicate countless hours for the love of the game.

Without them, getting to this Saturday and potentially beyond would be impossible. Clearly, all four semifinalists have reason to boast about the quality individuals they have had step aboard.

“Building a successful program for me involves recruiting and maintaining solid experienced, dedicated volunteer coaches who want to work with kids and who have the player’s best interests in mind,” says McDonnell.

“I have a terrific coaching partner in Tom Kudaba and we are very fortunate to have a healthy number of knowledgeable community coaches (and a few teachers as well) ready and able to help,” McDonnell continues of a group that includes the likes of Dave Samson, Ric Graham, Mario Luongo, Joe Marklund and others.

“Continuity of coaches is even more important because we are only a four-year program. We don’t have a Grade 8 football or a feeder program in the community. We do have supportive parents (mostly) and a supportive administration team.”

Mt. Douglas head coach Mark Townsend and starting quarterback Gideone Kremler. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2018. All Rights Reserved)


“I believe that these championship programs have demonstrated the building blocks of success, that is to say hard work, sacrifice and commitment,” says Rams’ head coach Mark Townsend, whose team has won four of the last seven titles, including three in row from 2011-13.

“A team can accomplish almost anything if they are willing to work hard enough to make it possible,” adds Townsend, who has always been a proponent of the idea that the sum value of a group of selfless players is a championship team. “Sacrifice is the willingness to be a team player first and foremost, do what is asked of you and be first class on and off the field. Commitment, similar to sacrifice, is that decision to be ‘all in’ within the team’s core values, doing the little things correctly, and doing what is right.”

Vancouver College head coach Todd Bernett. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2018. All Rights Reserved)


“I think a factor in all four of these schools having success has been maintaining football culture as a relevant part of school life,” says Irish head coach Todd Bernett, “and that takes a combination of administration, coaches and players.

“Lots of school have talent, but if you are missing the element of culture and relevance, many young men might not commit to your program. When we have reached finals, it was with teams who were smart in the classroom and respected by their peers. Basically, the football players made the school a better place. That put football culture in a positive light, and so it was relevant and respected by administration, teachers and our parent community.”

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