SURREY — Launching a high school football program is not unlike attempting to create your own gridiron galaxy, complete with so much heavy lifting through the launch phase that the small touches which represent the genesis of team tradition can almost seem like insignificant specks.
Yet ask Gord Randall about all of that, and the force behind one of B.C. high school football’s two new start-up programs answers in a way which has you convinced that in the grand scheme of things, no detail is too small to miss, right down to the piping adorning his new team’s first set of football pants.
“We have 11 stars around the waist because we are 11 stars working together,” says Randall, a 29-year-old former offensive lineman at both Queen’s and UBC who over the course of just over a year, has marshalled the energy of players, parents, coaches, and sponsors to launch both junior and senior varsity teams at Surrey’s Sullivan Heights Secondary, where its teams are ambitiously called the Stars.
This season, both Sullivan Heights, and Chilliwack’s Sardis Secondary Falcons will not only debut in the B.C. high school senior varsity world, they will do so as members of the top-tiered AAA Pacific Division. Overall, a select number of B.C. teams play non-conference games Friday and Saturday, including defending B.C. Triple A champion New Westminster who are at Issaquah’s Liberty High on Friday. Sullivan Heights plays Friday at Washington’s Stevenson High. Check back Friday evening for the season’s first edition of Varsity Letter’s B.C. High School Football Report.
In the case of Randall, all you have to do is study his resume to know that he’s arrived at his current station in life — as both teacher and coach at Sullivan Heights — because of a higher calling.
And that calling can specifically be traced through two unique experiences.
One as a player. The other as a coach.
And when combined, it’s hard to imagine Gord Randall could have chosen to do anything else with his life.
CHAPTER 1: YOU GOT $20,000?
Imagine yourself a 10th grader wanting to play high school football so badly that you approach your school’s athletic director and tell him you’d like to start a team.
That bit of youthful bravado, at North Delta’s Seaquam Secondary in the spring of 2004, was good for a hearty laugh, especially when Randall was asked if he happened to have a spare $20,000 in his jeans to make it all happen.
“I was going into midget, and there’s the same age gap as there is now,” remembers Randall of his community football days in North Delta. “I was a 16-year-old offensive lineman looking at a bunch of snarling 18-year-olds who had just finished high school and I knew I would never play.”
Randall reported back to his parents, Terry and Joan, that his first foray into the re-birth of Seaquam football had been met by a pretty substantial road block.
“They both told me not to worry about the money,” remembers Randall, whose dad was a former president of North Delta Minor Football. “They said that if I could find the kids to play that they would find a way to make it happen.”
Quite incredibly, they did.
Seaquam hit the ground running in the fall of 2005, and just one year later in December of 2006, head coach Kris Pechet’s team defeated Richmond’s Hugh Boyd Trojans to win the Subway Bowl B.C. Double A championship title.
The program has continued to flourish, including winning the title again, a decade later in 2016.
And as Randall and the Stars welcomed a reporter to practice on Wednesday evening, it was refreshing to see that several members of the Seaquam family had answered his call to coaching arms.
“I have been able to milk some of my old connections,” Randall explains during a break in practice. “Really, I’ve just gotten the old band back together.”
They included names like Paul Taylor, Ron Corrado and Alex Babalos, the latter the quarterback on Seaquam’s 2006 title team and a former UBC defensive back.
“Now, just over 10 years later, I’ve really come full circle here at Sullivan Heights,” adds Randall, “and it’s great to see the Seaquam program thriving.”
CHAPTER 2: A MASTER’S DEGREE IN HYACK TRADITION
Over his two years as a UBC player, where he played under former head coach Shawn Olson, Randall would take any opportunity he had to develop his coaching chops along the offensive line with the New Westminster Hyacks.
It was back in 2003, 15 full seasons ago, that Farhan Lalji re-launched the long dormant program at New Westminster Secondary School.
Randall joined the Hyacks in a part-time coaching role over his two seasons as a UBC player, before spending the past four as a full-time assistant along the offensive line and was a part of the staff which helped lead New Westminster to its first Subway Bowl B.C. championship as the Hyacks beat Terry Fox in a dramatic AAA title game last December at B.C. Place Stadium.
Just mention his time with the Hyacks, and Randall can’t emphasize enough what he carried across the river from New Westminster to Sullivan Heights.
In fact before he even begins to speak, Randall reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded sheet of paper.
“You can see my practice plans are pretty much straight out of Farhan’s repertoire,” he says of his mentor Lalji’s approach. “Everybody is mapped out every single minute. I am far less experienced, so I have some kinks to work out. They really run a professional-style program and I am trying to emulate that in my own practice structure where everyone is always working and everything is like clockwork.”
Yet Randall has taken a shine to the other side of the Hyacks’ coin as well.
“They are very involved in the holistic lives of their kids,” adds Randall. “Farhan gets involved and he gets kids the help they need. And they’re also involved in their kids’ academic lives.
“It won’t be easy to duplicate,” continues Randall. “What New Westminster does, you can’t emulate overnight. Coaches love the buzz word: They have a built a culture.”
Randall knows, however, that working hard at Sullivan Heights, where he now a full-time teacher, will pay off with its own kinds of dividends.
CHAPTER 3: REACHING FOR THE STARS
So many programs around the province have the right infrastructure in place, yet they can’t get enough kids to play.
“The one thing we’ve got working for us is that we have the one commodity you can’t buy,” says Randall. “And that’s kids.”
At an 8-to-12 institution entering its 19th school year this coming Tuesday, Sullivan Heights boasts a total enrolment of 1,600 students.
Flag football had been a popular club sport at the school over the years, but Randall has lit a flame around the 11-man tackle variety, and thus despite never fielding Grade 8 or JV squads in the run-up to this season, he has 56 kids suiting up between the JV and varsity teams.
“So we’ve got 33 on the varsity and 23 on the JV,” he says, adding that the learning curve will be steep with just 12 experienced players. “Ultimately, if we go 0-8 every season, that’s its own set of problems. But that is not what I am here for. I want to be here to have the chance to make the lives of my players a little better and ultimately, that is what will drive this program.”
The winning should eventually take care of itself.
But until that starts to happen on a consistent basis, the Stars will not only be looking good in their new game-day kit, they’ll be building on a base of tradition, they hope, for years to come.
Randall is helping to assure that by carrying on more of the New Westminster tradition.
“I have gone out into the community and I have solicited community sponsorships, and that is another one straight out of Farhan’s book,” he says.
And has it ever worked.
Sullivan Heights, by virtue of the fact that it was starting two football teams in the same season, is working with a budget of about $60,000.
Of the $40,000 or so that has already been raised, about $20,000 has come through community sponsorships, including $15,000 from its chief sponsor, High Street Marketing, a RE/MAX affiliate.
And that brings us back to those Sullivan Heights football uniforms and helmets, all designed by the head coach.
The names of the programs top sponsors are all emblazoned across the game jerseys. On the collar of each is the name of every person or business who has made a financial pledge to help start the program.
Even the uniform lettering is reminiscent of the Star Wars font, which the team’s video says “evokes otherworldly greatness…”
After Friday’s program-opening game just north of Portland at Washington’s Stevenson High, the Stars travel to Chilliwack’s Exhibition Stadium to face host Sardis in a battle of first-time programs.
“We’ve scheduled each other on purpose, like we did in the spring,” says Randall of the Falcons, who will be coached by Adam Smith. “They are in a bit of different situation than us in that they’ve been at it a bit longer than we have. They’re a lot further ahead and that was pretty clear in the spring.
“But it’s cool that on a macro scale, two teams are starting at the same time. I know (B.C. high school football) is excited about it.”
And so will the locals come Sept. 14, when the Stars welcome Spectrum of Victoria for a 5 p.m. game at its home Cloverdale Athletic Park field. It’s a contest which doubles not only as the program’s home opener, but its first game of conference play.
Eleven stars, working together. It’s the start of a new football galaxy.
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