LANGLEY — Back in the late 1960s, at my home in a rural part of North Delta, I’d watch a kid’s show on the CBC called ‘The Friendly Giant’ in which the title character, made to look larger than life by a simple upwards camera pan, would ask his young viewers to ‘Look up… wayyyy up!’
After doing my final tally of teams this morning for Varsity Letters’ preseason B.C. Triple A football Big 5 rankings, based on the votes of 10 of the tier’s head coaches, I found myself repeating that very line to myself.
As the countdown to Thursday’s Week 0 kickoff approaches, on the heels of a cancelled 2020 season and what will have been 641 days without our grand B.C. high school game, , the coaches have spoken, and taken as a collective whole, the initial late August forecast calls for a dominant two-team race at the top for the Subway Bowl title this December.
In subsequent weeks throughout the remainder of the 2021 season, Varsity Letters will provide the B.C.’s official high school football rankings based on game results, but for this week, we handed the tough job to the willing coaches, asking for their confidential thoughts after 21 months without the game being played.
Defending Subway Bowl B.C. champion Vancouver College has been given the nod as No. 1 to start the 2021 season, while a most familiar title contender in Victoria’s Mt. Douglas Rams sits at No. 2. And look at how close the two actually are:
VARSITY LETTERS BIG 5
1 Vancouver College Fighting Irish (43) (7 first-place votes)
2 Mt. Douglas Rams (Victoria) (42) (3)
3 Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers (Surrey) (21)
4 Notre Dame Jugglers (Vancouver) (13)
5 St. Thomas More Knights (Burnaby) (7)
Others receiving votes — New Westminster Hyacks (6), Kelowna Owls (6), South Delta Sun Devils (4), Centennial Centaurs (Coquitlam) (4), Terry Fox Ravens (Port Coquitlam) (3), Belmont Bulldogs (Victoria) (1)
(NOTE — this week’s full abbreviated schedule below)
The Irish not only edged out the Rams for No. 1 by a single poll point, the two programs were the only ones to receive at least one Top 5 vote from the AAA head coaching fraternity, all of whom were given the opportunity to fill out their confidential ballots.
No. 3 Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers of Surrey, Vancouver’s No. 4 Notre Dame Jugglers, and the No. 5 St. Thomas More Knights of Burnaby rounded out the rest of the preseason Big 5 with their combined poll points still shy of the respective totals of either Vancouver College and Mt. Douglas.
To varying degrees, New Westminster, Kelowna, South Delta, Centennial of Coquitlam, Terry Fox of Port Coquitlam and Belmont of Victoria all sat just outside the Big 5.
Whether the script will actually hold form over a season of huge unknowns remains to be seen, yet based on the early returns, it looks like a two-horse race between the Irish and Rams.
It also has fans circling Friday, Oct. 22 on their calendars.
That’s the day that the two traditional Western Conference foes go head-to-head in a 1 p.m. contest in the provincial capital at Royal Athletic Park.
Here’s a quick look at the preseason Big 5 teams:
1 VANCOUVER COLLEGE FIGHTING IRISH
When we last left head coach Todd Bernett’s crew, the Irish were walking off the turf at B.C. Place on the final day of November 2019 with the most decisive Subway Bowl senior varsity title in B.C. history.
The season’s overall numbers following that evening’s 45-0 win over Lord Tweedsmuir spoke for themselves: A 12-1 record and season-ending nine-game win streak in which it outscored foes 350-21.
Vancouver College gets an early look at what it has in development when the Irish kick off this Thursday at O’Hagan Field when it hosts Carson Graham in what will be the first day of official B.C. high school sports since the pandemic hit in March of 2020.
Some of the players to watch this season?
There’s many, but you can start with these five, all seniors: Running back Tommy Carvalho (5-8, 185), receiver Callum Hansen (6-0, 170), defensive back/receiver Chris Joseph (6-0, 160), defensive end Jack Procter (6-2, 230), defensive back Lachlan Scardina (6-0, 180).
“Beyond the obvious loss of games for the class of 2021, there has also been a noticeable impact on culture and tradition within our program,” Bernett told Varsity Letters of how the program persevered through the pandemic. “All of our players who went through 2020 and have returned for more high school football are going through the struggle of adjusting to high expectations, maintaining culture and traditions, and remembering why they put in the work. Not having played a game in so long makes it difficult for anyone to keep their edge.”
2 MT. DOUGLAS RAMS
While the Irish out-polled the Rams by a margin of seven first-place votes to three, the margin was just a single point based on the five second-place voters and one third-place vote garnered by the Victoria powers.
Said head coach Mark Townsend, set to lead his Rams into battle for his 13th season: “I was incredibly impressed by and proud of how our players, coaches, parents and staff pulled together and persevered during the past number of months. We were all have been impacted by this pandemic but fortunately stayed healthy and safe.”
Among the seniors to watch are running back/linebacker Miltiadis Koulelis (6-2, 210), receiver/defensive back Bryce Reuther (6-0, 195) and quarterback Hunter Swift (5-11, 190). Grade 11 Sebastian Sibbald (6-6, 350) brings size and push to both sets of lines.
The Rams open the season Friday in Coquitlam against the Centennial Centaurs.
3 LORD TWEEDSMUIR PANTHERS
Three second-place votes and a pair of thirds demonstrate how highly regarded a group first-year head coach Nick Kawaza has in Surrey.
Yet as the veteran coach explains, rules regarding non-teaching staff over the pandemic limit his true knowledge of the team’s make-up heading into the fall.
“We will be, as all, very inexperienced,” Kawaza explained earlier this month. “As off-campus coaches we have had very little contact and a social-distanced, no-contact spring camp, so we really don’t have a feel for our team yet.”
Players to watch, all seniors, include: Quarterback/defensive back McCord Leeson (6-1, 180), running back/linebacker Michael Ogbeiwi (6-0, 230), running back/linebacker Reggie Elie, offensive lineman/linebacker Parker Lodewijkx (6-2, 235) and receiver/defensive back Jace Atkinson (6-3, 185).
The Panthers are set to open the season Sept. 10 at Mercer Stadium against the New Westminster Hyacks.
4 NOTRE DAME JUGGLERS
A brand-new on-campus field signals a new beginning after a cancelled season for one of the province’s most enduring programs.
The Jugglers and senior quarterback Aiden Domino christen the new park Sept. 10 against Centennial.
“We should have a well-balanced team at Notre Dame this season,” said head coach Denis Kelly. “If our offensive line comes through, we could be pretty tough to stop.”
Notre Dame also has a core of seniors on defence who saw substantial varsity reps back in 2019 as Grade 10s.
Some of the players to watch: Quarterback/defensive end Aiden Domino (6-4, 220), offensive lineman/linebacker Aiden Thomas (6-0, 200), receiver/defensive back Antonio Conte (5-11/165), receiver/defensive back Lucas Pante (6-1, 175), tight end/defensive back Massimo Ryan (6-0, 185).
Said Kelly of the group he will field this season coming off a COVID-cancelled 2020 campaign: “All of us have been affected by the pandemic. I feel for the 2021 grads who lost their senior year. We tried to keep practices going last season until the end of November in hopes of some kind of season. I think this helped the players appreciate a regular football season and how it is very often taken for granted. Now, hopefully they will realize the great benefits of the game and approach things with more vigour than ever.
5 ST. THOMAS MORE KNIGHTS
STM head coach Jared Power begins his first year at the helm confident the return-to-play season will go a long ways towards answering the key questions of a youthful group of Knights, the majority of whom will be Grade 11s.
“We will be a bit unpredictable,” said Power. “We will be quite young, but we’ll also be athletic and gritty.
“Our seniors are composed of strong, athletic, multi-sport athletes, some of whom are getting looks at the next level for their respective sports outside of football,” added Power, whose team kicks off Thursday in Surrey against the host Ear Marriott Mariners. “So ‘gritty, green, and athletic’ would be a good way to describe us.”
A quartet of seniors will lead the way.
Josh Faria (5-11, 190), plays a key role as the quarterback and also as a linebacker.
Athletic Quinn Walters (6-2, 205) joins Faria as part of that STM linebacking core as its starter in the middle, then adds to his value with the offensive ability to line up anywhere from the backfield as a running back, to a tight end position up front.
Evan Mak (5-10, 175) and Marco Giovinazzo (6-3, 185) will double as receivers and contributors in the defensive secondary.
Gavin Shaw (5-10, 185) is one of a number of Grade 11s set to make a mark, mirroring Walters’ offensive versatility and joining what looks to be a crowded and blue-chip room of linebackers.
1 p.m. — Carson Graham at Vancouver College (O’Hagan Field)
5:30 p.m. — St. Thomas More at Earl Marriott
3 p.m. — Mt. Douglas at Centennial
4:30 p.m. — Robert Bateman at G.W. Graham (Exhibition Park)
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