Tuesday, June 30, 2009

2009 Pre-Season Projections

AA Varsity 2009

Ranking The Conferences

This one is a bear! The Valley and Coastal conferences are in a dead heat in terms of competitive balance.

Lets look at school size as it is one important indicator of program strength. It all begins with the pool of athletes to recruit from within one's hallways:

Coastal Conference Valley Conference

John Barsby (158) Mission (225)
Ballenas (261) Seaquam (275)
Timberline (270) Langley (308)
Mt. Douglas (289) Rick Hansen (252)
Belmont (516) Abby Collegiate (354)
Windsor (186) Hugh Boyd (211)
Handsworth (277) Pitt Meadows (195)
Frank Hurt (262) Sands (174)
South Delta (290)

Avg. 279 Avg. 250

Strength of Program: Jv's are an important indicator of program strength as are community ball feeder systems. Also, taking into account last year's varsity performance and historic varsity standings it emerges that there is again much parity between the conferences from the top of each heap to the bottom.

Weaker Programs: What may separate the two conferences is the number of weaker or unproven squads this year. Until proven otherwise on the field of play, it breaks down like this:

Coastal: Frank Hurt, Belmont. Valley: Abbottsford, Langley

Again a tight heat and it can be argued that all four of these programs are on the ascendency. What then? Probably coaching, off-season conditioning and ultimately, the number of impact athletes on each team. Failing this, spring scores may give insight.

By the narrowest of margins I am going to rank the conferences as follows:

Coastal: 9 teams seven of which could make a deep playoff run.

Valley: 8 teams, six of which could make a deep playoff run.

Interior: Only Fulton seems dangerous or has consistently proven itself since turn of the century. As JV ball gets established for these guys, the bar will go up. Not there yet.

North: A good team of athletes will emerge from this conference in 09. It may take this group awhile to acclimate to high calibre ball. Time will tell. Not running spring ball in May/June will prove to be problematic. Summer "spring" ball won't be the same with athletes all over the map due to family and work commitments.

Top 10

1. Rick Hansen
2. S. Delta
3. Windsor
4. Mt. Douglas
5. Sands
6. Seaquam
7. John Barsby
8. Hugh Boyd
9. Mission
10. Handsworth

Honorable Mention: Ballenas, Clarence Fulton, Pitt Meadows

Coastal Conference

1. South Delta: The SunDevils lost some key players from last year's championship squad to graduation but they have also retained many important contributors from that group while adding a very good group of players from their feeder system. Coach Moon has been quoted as saying that he thinks they can be better in 09 than they were in 08. There is no reason to doubt him and judging by the way his squad handled a very good Seaquam unit in Spring Ball this is going to be the team to beat in the Coastal Conference if not all of BC. Offensively the Sundevils will be using multiple formations and they are known to quickly exploit what defenses are giving them. Defensively they like to get a lot of hats to the football while not selling out too hard with the blitz. Special teams are very good due to the game breaking athletes that abound on the SD roster. This group is well coached at every position and the complete package in terms of size, speed and experience. The season opener versus a scrappy John Barsby squad will be followed by a week 2 road-trip collission with Mt. Douglas that will have a major impact on the November playoff line-up.

2. Windsor: Watching a Windsor offense carving up opponents is like watching lazer surgery. The offensive line has few rivals in terms of technical proficiency and woe unto opposing defensive coordinators who don't do an honest self-scout heading into a Windsor game. Bend but don't break defense characterizes the Duke approach to keeping opponents out of the endzone. In terms of coaching, Coach Schuman is a preparation animal who if given an eighth day, would likely have the DNA profiles of opposing players on hand for Monday practice. The Dukes are a complete squad who's only knock would be a lack of size. Look for the Dukes to get off to a very fast start in September before wading into what can arguably be characterized as the toughest October schedule in BC. There will be no weeks off in the lead-up to the playoffs and the Dukes will be in playoff mode weeks ahead of their post-season competition as a result.

3. Mt. Douglas: A very big AA school back from four years of AAA ball where they competed quite well, the Rams are licking their chops (no pun intended) as they prepare to tear into AA competition and make a run for the Subway Bowl. The Rams are the biggest team physically in the conference and have a wealth of experience, speed and big play makers. This group has been together since the seventh and eighth grade and they will be entering week 1 play with a US game under their belts. This is the team to beat coming off of Vancouver Island and they are built to challenge the "heavyweights" in the provincial top five. The Rams could very well go undefeated in conference play. A week 2 showdown at home with the BC Champion South Delta Sundevils could be the game that determines who emerges from conference play in November as the number 1 seed.

4. John Barsby: A consistent playoff team since 1999, the "Dawgs" of John Barsby have undergone a bit of an internal rebuild the past couple of years that began to manifest itself in the win column in 08. A seasoned group of veteren players will form this year's squad with playoff experience at the JV and Varsity levels of play. Spring-Ball gave a hint of what is to come with big offensive numbers, but it also exposed a lot of room for defensive improvement. The Dawgs need to stay healthy as depth is an issue in a small school program. The season opener versus the BC Champion South Delta SunDevils will give an indication of where the Dawgs are in the provincial pecking order and a week 3 home contest versus the Handsworth Royals, a squad Barsby has never defeated will be absolutely huge in determining the November playoff picture. Look to the week 6 Border Battle versus Ballenas for some fireworks with the losing squad facing a potential missed or very short post-season.

5. Handsworth: The Handsworth offensive and defensive schemes are tried and true and the coaching first-rate. With the Royals it comes down to the group of players who have to make these X's and O's do their thing. This year Handsworth is on an "up" year and will be very, very competitive headed into the playoffs. Strengths will be on the offensive line and at the quarterback/receiver positions. A solid crew of JV's move up who are well versed in the Handsworth system. Traditionally slow starters, it will be interesting to see how they handle playing league games in week 2. Notwithstanding this, the Royals will be a vastly improved team when it counts come November. Week three and four visits to John Barsby and Mt. Douglas respectively will have a significant impact on playoff seeding for the Royals.

6. Ballenas: On a good day, the Whalers can play with and possibly beat any team in the Coastal Division. They are going to need at least six or seven good days this Fall to obtain a decent playoff seed when it all shakes down in November. The Whalers are a quality group through and through with excellent technical coaching to back up tried and true offensive and defensive schemes. Strengths will be at linebacker and on the offensive line with a quality backfield to accompany. Look for an early exhibition tilt versus Hugh Boyd to give a good indication of how the Whalers stack up against AA's upper echelon. Games versus Timberline, Handsworth and Barsby are going to have a big impact on whether or not the Whalers make or go far in the playoffs.

7. Timberline: At the start of the season the Wolves will be a group of tough kids. By mid-season they will be a group of tough football players. Timberline will have to get a couple of early victories to stay in the playoff hunt late in the season. That is just the math of the thing. Offensivley, the Wolves have big play potential in the air and their O. Coordinator does a very good job of mixing the run-pass game. On defense, this will be a hard nosed, run stopping crew that likes to dust it up. The Wolves will have some decent size to throw into the mix as well and this bodes well for them looking at some of the key games on their schedule. A finish higher than number seven is perfectly possible but.....winning a few games early will be a big part of that kind of a season. The season opener versus Ballenas will be HUGE!

8. Belmont:The blue Bulldogs of Belmont are on the edge of reaching the critical mass of a program that is going to make the jump to being very competitive. Going into year three of varsity play, they are big, fast, and increasingly veteran in terms of their skill set. Mentally, they are starting to get some killer instinct as well. Being on the edge of being competitive is not good enough this year though; they have to BE competitive. Technique, conditioning and unit cohesiveness need to improve for this to happen. I have watched this program with great interest and feel that they are getting better each and every year. This improvement has to be a weekly thing and the "winnable" games against the bottom half of the division have to be won. It is then going to be a matter of confidence headed into the other tilts that will define this year's squad and lay track for the program in the years ahead. Make no mistake, this is a big year for Belmont. If they can get their ducks in a row on the practice field with everyone pulling in the same direction, I believe they will be a big surprise this fall. When this program comes of age, it could be a dynasty....yep....I am saying dynasty at AAA in the years to come. Back to 2009; look for a shocker of a score somewhere on the Belmont schedule and after that, look for a couple more. All you Belmont players, coaches and fans, take offense to a number eight ranking and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

9. Frank Hurt: Headed into the season known as the Hornets this crew had better be showing improvement over their 08 effort. The Hornets are in year two of a regime change at the coaching level and what looks to be a rebuild to go with it. Last season there were positive signs that the rebuild was taking hold. Hopefully, the Hornets will pick-up where they left off and get better week by week. The Coastal Division is going to be very tough in 09 and a big step-up from the opponents they faced in spring ball. What will it be in 09. a swarm of angry hornets reminiscent of the 04-07 era or a gob of dump bees? I am thinking somewhere in between.

Valley Conference

1. Rick Hansen: OK, if the forum scuttlebut is to be believed, Lord Tweedsmuir waded through these guys in spring ball like crud through a tin horn. I don't buy it. Coach Gill and co. were not looking to add a spring exhibition game to their coaching resume as its defining triumph. The Hurricanes got real good as the season progressed last year and wound-up almost knocking off the eventual provincial champions in the semis. The guts of last year's squad is back and they are loaded for bear at every offensive position on the field. The top returning Quarterback in AA ball returns to guide a very, balanced offensive scheme that is complimented by a defense that should be way tougher, way earlier, in the season than in 08. Week 1 against cross-town rival AAA Mouat will be an early litmus test for the Hurricanes and make no mistake, they are coached-up with a proven history of week by week improvement. The Hurricanes are the team to beat in 09 and they ought to get busy sewing bulls eyes on their shirts.

2. Sands: "The return of Darth Vader", "The Boogy Men are Back", "The Rise of Mordor"......and so it goes. They're baaaaack.....Good I say!! Hey, this is going to be a tough, tough team that is going to try to name C Gap "Scorpion Alley" and smash opposing offenses who try to advance the football. Everyone on the Sands schedule is going to have to pick-up their game and on the flip-side, the Scorpions are going to find out that AA ball has gotten tougher the past couple of years. This crew is going to make the year all the better for everyone and for themselves by being back. There will be no shortage of rivalry games week in and week out. Look for the Scorpions to be in the mix, as high as number one and a couple of game day mistakes from number 5. Number two seems about right for now.

3. Seaquam: These guys are a throwback to something rolling out of Pittsburg in the mid to late 70's. They run, trap and tackle hard and like nothing more than a good street-fight in pads. This year's offense will define itself with the run and PAP. Defensively the Seahawks play with a chip on their shoulder and have quietly assembled some serious perimeter speed offensively and defensively. This is a fully re-built winning program who will be playing its best ball late in the year. They will need to be doing just that in 09. A first place finish is not out of the question provided the Hawks stay healthy.

4. Hugh Boyd: The Trojans will be lining up with two backs this year and have a superb group of receivers to compliment their backfield. Importantly the offensive line is an improvement over last year's talented group as well! Defensively the men of Troy feature a very quick crew of ball hawks and run stoppers who play very well as a cohesive unit. Specials will be good and it all adds up to a very solid squad taking the field each week. Key for the Trojans will be the team mo-jo. I hear tell that they are a group with a super attitude who just don't have "quit" in their mentality. This is good because they are going to play in a lot of close games versus the upper echelon of their division. Look for a finish that could be a lot higher than the fourth seed headed into the playoffs.

5. Mission: The Roadrunners have for better or worse thrown the ball and left the run as more than a bit of an afterthought since joining varsity play in 2004. Along the way they have fairly or unfairly earned a reputation for coming up short against power running teams in the big games. I think that there is a mixed-bag of reality in this perception. I also think that Coach Watrin is no slouch and that when he has guys who can run, he uses them well. This year's squad is going to be more balanced and it has the guys up front who can lay down track for the ball carrier. Defensively they are quick and nasty with many veteran players. The Roadrunners are Gridiron's pick to be 09's surprise in their conference. Though ranked fifth in pre-season, the Mission squad has the potential to play right up to number one or two. Anyone who watched their JV's two years ago can vouch for how talented this team is. Keep an eye on the Roadrunners!

6. Pitt Meadows: A solid group of JV's move-up from last years championship appearance and by all counts, PMS is headed upwards as a program. Varsity ball is going to be a sobering experience to those who think this season will be a continuation of last year's JV success. One thing of note however is the pass oriented offensive scheme these guys employ. If they can throw effectively this group won't have to get in shoving matches with more mature and physical squads which could allow them to hang a few unexpected W's in the standings. Defensively, the power running teams like Sands and Boyd are going to be a fearsome challenge. A middle of the pack finish is likely.

7. Langley: The Saints are in year 3 of their program's football oddessy. This group matches up well physically with anyone and it is just a matter of time til they can play the finesse elements of the game at a level that makes em a true threat on both sides of the ball. Last year I thought they would be a break through squad and it just didn't happen for them. This year I think they could challenge up a few spots from their current conference ranking. It ought to be fun to follow this group in the coming months.

8. Abbottsford Collegiate: Word has it there is a good quarterback in Abbottsford who doesn't play at Hansen or Mouat. With some help, this fellow could lead a fairly productive offense in 09. This season however is going to be a particularly tough one to have as your first in AA ball. Big, school, big numbers...who knows? This group could overachieve but at this sitting, it is doubtful.

Interior Conference

1. Clarence Fulton: Early season favorites to place first in the Interior. Coach Scheller knows how to get it done and he has a great group of athletes in pads this year.

2. Okanagen Mission: The Huskies are a mature program who have found their full measure the past three years. This group will challenge the Maroons for top rail.

3. Valleyview: The Vikings are a cruiser weight in this division who can rise above the middle of the pack on a good year. Keep an eye on these guys.

4. Mt. Baker: A good quality exhibition schedule and the surprise factor that comes with distance and a long trip for scouting bodes well for this new squad come league play. Will be fun to watch how they do in 09.

5. Norkam: This could be a breakout year for the Saints. Early season play will give everyone a good luck at their prospects in October.

North Conference

1. Kelley Road: A couple dozen returning players and a good looking option oriented running game. The Roadrunners are built for the late Fall weather and will seed into AAA playoffs at year's end. This is the consensus team to beat in the North Conference.

2. College Heights: Eighteen returning players bolstered by a grade 11 youth movement. A balanced offensive attack with great roster depth will help the Cougars play deep into the season. If they can find a way to slow down Kelley Road's ground game and force a few turnovers the boys on the hill could be sitting atop the pack come November.

3. Prince George: Big school that will pound away with 250 lb wrecking ball running back and this could be a factor in the autumn frost. The Polars could jump up in the mix with effective PAP and a solid defensive group.

4. Nechacko Valley: (Vanderhoof): Last year's Tier 2 Champions loses a quality group to graduation but returns with size and a winning mentality. The Vikings have what it takes to upset a couple of the top three squads and make big moves to a good playoff seed.

5. Dutchess Park: A new coaching staff for the Kondors as they hit the field in 09. Some good talent present on the roster and this could be the sleeper team up north this year!

6. Correlieu (Quesnel): Hanging their hat on a big offensive line and beast running back Kilby Barker. Add some defense and you have a group that could surprise.

7. D.P. Todd: A roster low in numbers spells depth problems for the Trojans down the stretch. Innovative coaching and great conditioning could save the day for this group.

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