Welcome to the unofficial start of the 2018 B.C. high school football season.
Beginning today for the next two weeks, we here at Varsity Letters will count down, at the rate of one team per week day, the preseason Big 5 senior varsity football teams.
Today, we start at the Double A ranks with No. 5, where a start-up program, almost a decade into its initial launch, is finally entrenched in building a title-contending mentality. Next week, it’s on to Triple A!
MAPLE RIDGE — The birth and subsequent growth of high school football at Maple Ridge’s Samuel Robertson Technical hasn’t exactly progressed as smoothly as clockwork.
Yet as we head into a summer filled with as much contentment as the fledgling senior varsity program has known since its inception back in the fall of 2010, you have to hand it to every coach, administrator and kid who has stepped up to be a part of the nine-year process because when the 2018 season is complete later this year, an historic first will finally be in the books for these Titans.
“Our seniors will be the first ones in this program to go from Grade 8-to-12,” says SRT head coach Mark Bailey. “That is what has been unique about our program. Kids and coaches have come and gone, and at times, football has been hanging by a shoe-string at the school.”
Alas, perhaps this is the season when everything from the Titans’ proximity to each other in the huddle to the very laces of their cleats, get pulled and knotted just a little bit tighter.
Rival coaches within the B.C.Double A tier, sensing a program finally gaining some traction and coming off its best-ever senior varsity season, despite a roster filled with underclassmen, have cast their votes and placed the Titans in a place its current seniors will always remember: No. 5 in the Varsity Letters’ Big 5 preseason rankings.
Only once before, in fact, have the football Titans produced teams at the senior varsity level in back-to-back seasons.
After kicking off with senior varsity football in 2013, following three seasons of growth through the junior varsity ranks, the Titans fielded senior varsity Double A football teams in both that year and 2014. However things went dark at the oldest age-group for the next two seasons, before a resurrection took place last season.
The results in 2017? Based on the fact that the Titans had never won a senior varsity game prior, ‘spectacular’ is the first word that comes to mind.
A 30-14 non-conference win over Frank Hurt was the prelude to conference wins over Langley (14-0), Robert Bateman (12-0) and Pitt Meadows (20-19).
It took a 40-0 loss in the opening round of its first-ever senior varsity Subway Bowl playoff appearance to eventual semifinalist Vernon to cap a 4-4 overall campaign.
First senior varsity victory.
First senior varsity playoff appearance.
And, first-ever conference and provincial all-star team selections.
Graduating senior receiver/defensive end Tyler Rooker was named a provincial all-star and joined current rising seniors Brayden Hamilton (RB/S) and Landon Sigouin (D/O line), as well as rising Grade 11 Brock Pelwicki (RB/LB) as conference all-stars.
A host of the Titans’ rising senior graduating Class of 2019 were actually members of the school’s 2014 Grade 8 team, which went 3-1 in conference play and captured the Subway Bowl Grade 8 Tier 2 B.C. championship.
Blake Alford, Curtis Farnsworth, Kyle Halverson, Hamilton and Darius Jospeh were some of those names and that season remains the only one in which SRT fielded teams at all three levels of B.C. high school football.
So as spring football gears up around the province, how does Bailey see the prospects for his pre-season provincially-ranked team in 2018?
“We’re a little thin along our offensive line and that is definitely going to be a difference-making place for us this season with regards to our longevity,” remarks the former Simon Fraser linebacker who transferred to UBC in 2010 to finish his collegiate career after the Clan left CIS for NCAA Div. 2.
“I am a firm believer that the game is won in the trenches,” the former Frank Hurt Hornets’ grad continues. “We have our share of work to do but these guys are fully committed, and for the first time in the history of the school, we’ve got a proper strength-and-conditioning program.”
Cody Hogarth, a rising Grade 11 who was dinged up after leading the Titans past Pitt Meadows in the regular-season finale in November is back to take the starting snaps.
Halverson, injured last season, returns as a key piece of the puzzle at receiver.
And there is a measure of versatility running through the Titans’ roster, so much so that Bailey loves the way it will help he and the rest of the staff scheme against the East’s elite teams, which should include the likes of Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies and the Langley Saints.
“I feel athletically we’re just so dynamic and versatile,” says Bailey. “I could put my starting corner at outside linebacker, I could drop a defensive end to inside linebacker. All of our kids have a responsibility to be somewhere and they know through buy-in, just where that is supposed to be at any given time.”
But now comes the real test.
Ask the province’s historically-dominant AA programs and they will all tell you that there is a marked difference to winning, and winning when carrying the weight of expectation.
On so many occasions, high school football at Samuel Robertson Technical has been at risk.
Thankfully, for the health of the game in B.C., it has survived. And now the kids from Maple Ridge, who will complete its first full cycle of program life, want to see it thrive.
(Tuesday, June 12: Double A No. 4)
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