It's August, high summer and you can feel a tiny Autumn tinge in the early morning cool. It's been way too long since the last snap of ball and it is time to pull out GI's Crystal Ball to see how things are going to shake down in BC's biggest Varsity tier of play. Folks have been working hard and the table is now set for a stellar season ahead.
Ranking The Conferences 2011
#1 Western AA Varsity
GI's Projected Order Of Finish
1. John Barsby
3. South Delta
The top four in this division are virtually interchangeable. Barsby and Handsworth, last year's finalists, have a week six rematch at the Royals home dirt that will not only be a slobber-knocker, but will be huge in the divisional playoff race. The Dawgs and Royals return a solid veteren core and welcome impressive arrivals from their JV ranks. South Delta has been chomping at the bit to get 2011 rolling. The Sundevils will be strong up-front and have a superb cast of backs and receivers. Ballenas is surely in an "up-year" with last year's eleventh grade having been the core of their 2010 squad and welcoming a BC semi-finalist group of 10's into the varsity fold. There is now the traditional depth and size on the Whaler Varsity that was conspicuously absent in 09 and 10. Bottom line in "The West", a team that fails to prepare on any given week could be walking home with their head down kicking rocks up the street in short order. Windsor is in the middle of a rebuild but you cannot ever, ever count one of Coach Schuman's squads out of the mix. The Dukes will improve week to week as the early season unfolds and will be very dangerous at home in the late weeks. The green and yellow are a long-shot for a playoff seed, but don't count em out.
#2 Southern AA Varsity
GI's Projected Order of Finish
2. Holy Cross
3. Hugh Boyd
Dang, this group is going to have a whole lot of parity when the season is all said and done. In fact, it is my belief that the plus-minus tie breaker system is going to be called into use at the conclusion of regular season play in early November. I like Seaquam to finish top rail on the fence because they have size up-front and a big back. When Seaquam has this combination, they play in their smashmouth comfort zone. This frees them up to be very creative offensively in big games with opponents who overcompensate for the downhill running attack. Holy Cross could very well come out on top of "The South" in 2011. The Crusaders played tough across their 2010 schedule and have numbers out for their varsity in excess of 45. In addition, this year's version has re-assembled one of its better coaching staffs in years to mould the talent at hand into a gridiron juggernaut. AA football has surely gotten a lot better with the arrival of the Crusaders to its ranks. Huge Boyd is Back! If the Trojans have been doing anything this past eight months, they have been sitting at the supper table and cruising the local buffet circuit. All joking aside, a great group of JV's have moved up to augment the better half of last years varsity squad. There is a hunger for success withing both groups and the chemistry/athletic mix exists for a top knotch squad in 2011. Hugh Boyd has a history of playing in tough conferences and have been very successful winning big games when the athletic decks are stacked evenly. There is a very good chance that they can split their divisional games with Seaquam and Holy Cross. Though projected last in their division, Langley cannot be completely discounted this Fall. This program in now mature and the roster stacks up in terms of numbers, size and athleticism with their divisional peers. There is a tipping point mentally where a program feels it can and should win consistently. I think that September is make or break for this group in terms of gaining the belief and swagger to go knock the jock off of the divisional competition. From a personal perspective, it would warm this ol heart to see the Saints turn the corner in 2011.
#3 Eastern AA Varsity
GI's Projected Order of Finish
2. Robert Bateman
3. Rick Hansen
4. Abbottsford Collegiate
5. Pitt Meadows
This division is a two team race and even then, I've got to call out Mission as the clear favorite to secure the number one seed headed into the post-season dance. Having Robert Bateman in the mix instantly makes the Roadrunners better as they are going to be pushed hard by the newcomers. On paper, it is very possible that Mission and Bateman have the 1-2 rosters in BC in terms of size and athleticism. The Friday, 28 October tilt between the two is going to be nuts. Played at 1 PM on Bateman's dirt with the whole dang school out to watch, this could easily be the game of the year. Plan to see this one if you can! The second tier in this division consists of Rick Hansen and Abbottsford Collegiate. Hansen has the edge by virtue of a deeper set of "skill positions" and a more dynamic offensive attack. I like the way that Abbottsford has been putting things together though and they pound the rock very well. Defensively, the red and black are a reflection of their offensive philosophy and this means they can get into nasty physical contests with teams that cannot get it done via the air. Hansen can throw. Weather and playing surface could be all important when these two squads meet. Pitt Meadows graduated the majority of its talent after last year's playoff run. The cupboards are pretty empty for the Marauders such as I can tell unless they have done a bang-up job of in-school recruiting this past eight months. Staying alive and keeping their religion for seasons ahead may be a challenging, yet realistic goal in 2011.
#4 Okanagen AA Varsity
GI's Projected Order of Finish
1. Clarence Fulton
5. South Kamloops
8. Mt. Baker
It was eleven years ago the last time an Interior collossus emerged on the playoff scene. Fulton was flat out dominant with back-to-back semi-final appearances in 99-2000. In 1999 John Pedersen, the predecessor of today's South Kamloops HS was a monster squad as well, taking the eventual Delta HS championship squad to the mat in a hard fought semi-final tilt. Since those glory days alot of evolution has taken place in the Interior. The 2011 alignments are darn near the same they were back then for the first time in a decade. Many of the same dynamics are now in play and this gives the smashmouth guys in sagebrush country some serious cause for hope. I believe the games are going to be very, very competitive and the level of play will now begin to rise!
Looking at the athletic breakdown in terms of roster maturity and returning starters, this is going to be a season of parity amongst the top five or so teams. Fulton will be top of the heap with a large and talented class rising from the JV ranks. They are going to have to play lights-out to realize their potential as Valleyview returns seven of the big fellas up front and a complete backfield sans quarterback. Norkam, much like the Maroons will have a big group of experienced 11's as well. OKM is in a rebuild this year, but they have shown much consistency in terms of fielding highly competitive squads the past six years. South Kamloops, a very big school, has a big back, but needs to find a supporting cast to compliment him. Look for Kalmalka to be the dark horse in this division and one of the favorites in 2012. Mt. Baker is a bit of an unknown. Proximity to Idaho and Montana should be a natural plus for these guys if they built in a set of yearly home and home with the programs south of the 49th.
Okanagen-Interior Insider's Report
1. Kal : Athletic and well coached. Have won the last two JV titles in the Interior.
2. South Kam: Perennial Interior power. Dropped to AA, making them the biggest school in the conference by far.
3. Vernon : Could the toughest , hardest hitting team in the Interior this year.
4. Valleyview: Option offense tough to defend, always prepared and ready.
5. Fulton: Defending champs are rebuilding
6. Nor Kam: Physical team that is always close.
7. OKM : Will be lead by Grade 11's, fast and wide open.
8. Mount Baker: Kootenay school still in growing stages.
Sept. 24 South Kam at Kal...the best 2 teams in the conference meet early!
Oct. 1 Vernon at Fulton. The battle of Vernon, VSS always plays Fulton tough.
Oct. 14 Nor Kam at Valleyview : Battle of Kamloops, bragging rights on the line.
Oct. 15 OKM at Mt. Baker: OKM makes the long trek to the Kootenays in a game filled with offense.
Nov. 4 South Kam at Valleyview will help decide the league title.
Nov. 5 Fulton at Kal also will decide the league title. Fulton has held the city championship of Vernon 13 straight years, since 1999. Could be the year they give it up.
#5 AA North
GI's Projected Order of Finish
1. Kelley Road
2. Prince George
3. Nechako Valley
4. Dutchess Park
6. College Heights
El Norte has been working out amazingly well the past few years in terms of divisional parity, rivalry and program health. This to me is the year that the calibre of play begins to seriously accellerate. JV squads are being established and the top four teams are going to be picking-up where they left off last year. All four return the majority of their players and the parity is going to lead to innovative coaching all round. Kelley Road and PG are huge schools and the beef on the roster will be representative. The most efficient squad in terms of talent development is Nechako Valley who are welcoming a group of 9 man BC community champs to the fold. Dutchess Park was very young last year and will be much improved along with Quenel's Correlieu HS who has similar age and experience demographics. The coaching staff at College Heights has their work cut out for them as they took huge graduation hits this spring.
There is a true air of football excitement up North with not only high school ball taking off, but a serious attempt at a BCFC franchise in the making. The required facility upgrade in terms of building a central artificial playing surface would surely benefit all. Also, in the mid to long-term, a lot of football people would likely stay in town and a pool of young coaching talent would begin to emerge as players transition from BCFC competition. Key for the whole group however, is to match their human resources with their growth and aspirations so as to avoid implosion.
Four things I'd love to see happen in the next couple of years in terms of expansion in the North: 1) Program in Williams Lake 2) Program in 100 Mile House 3) Program in Dawson Creek 4) Program in Ft. St. John.
As far as playoffs go, it would be huge to see a North division squad win a first round playoff victory. Huge I say, but not likely in 2011. With a year of JV feeder squads under their belts, 2012 is a distinct possibility.
Insider report on El Norte:
1. Nechako Valley Vikings
After finishing as runners up in the northern finals and getting a taste of the road in the BC High School playoffs this could be a breakout year for the Vikings. They have the pieces on offence with Kyle Varley (RB) running the ball really well at off season camps and Connor Nielsen (QB) looks ready to have a breakout season. The only thing that might slow down this offence is its lack of size on the offensive line, but their depth of good athletes will allow them to make plays and be a very explosive offence if they get past the line pf schrimage. On Defence, Hudson Schneider (S) will lead the Vikings who always seem to have a fast physical crew and would expect to see the same again this season. This group of players have played together and have had success in community so look for them to have succes again this season.
2. Kelly Road Roadrunners
One year older for a very young team last season, they went through the growing pains of a young team and look poised to make some noise this season. The Roadrunners may have the best offensive attack with the ability to run the ball with Tyler Roth (RB) for hard yards or put the ball in the air with Zach Zapporrozan-Jones (QB), Devin Readman (WR) and Devon Gurney (WR). On defence Travis Shields (DL) will anchor a big, strong defensive unit for the runners. Inexperience could still come back to bite this team in close games.
3. Duchess Park Condors
Duchess Park looked like a front runner to be the top team this year with their multi threat offence from last season. If they can find someone who can fill the hole left with the departure of Montell Lindgren (WR) then they should be able to get their aerial game going again with Rylan Matters (QB) getting more settled as the pivot in 2011. Look for Josh Hughson (RB) to see a heavy load in both the run and pass game as he makes plays when he can get out of the backfield. Holes on defence could make for some long nights, but they should be able to iron that out as the season progrsses.
4. College Heights Cougars
Possibly the best defence in the North the Cougars will win games and be in the mix giving teams alot of nail biting games. Though they aren't loaded with offensive power, they will do what they do to grind the ball up the field and break the occasional big pass play. Their ability to lock it down on defence with Duncan Finch (DL), Kaelan Botel (LB), Kieran Muir (CB) and Nick Jobs (S) will keep them in every game, but if they can't find the offensive sparkplugs they could be on the wrong end of alot of those close games.
5. Prince George (PGSS) Polars
Last year's defending champions should be near the top of the heap again this season returning some key pieces from last years northern championship team. The offence will go as far as Tyson Plain (QB) and Brady Lecomte (RB) can carry them. On defence Eric Irving (LB) will lead the way for an athletic group that will limit teams in the run game, but could be get beat up by some of the pass heavy teams. Alot of question marks in alot of key places gives the impression that they will win some games, but how many is hard to predict.
6. Correlieu Clansmen
Unfortunatly for the boys out in Quesnel they are still too young and inexperienced to knock off the rest of the north, but with Jared Roch (QB) Cole Parker (RB) and Nolen Weisbock (LB) they should be able to hang in games as their players continue to grow and develop.
GI's 2011 Pre-Season Top 10
Paleontologists frequently describe T. Rex as a Five Tonne Roadrunner. This year's Mission O. Line is not far off of the mark!
1. Mission: A 76-20 spring scimmage thumping of the proud Windsor Dukes in spring ball (http://www.bclocalnews.com/fraser_valley/m.../123949359.html) with multiple backs averaging 15 yards per-romp and a near perfect QB outing served graphic notice that Mission has bad intentions for AA foes this coming season. The Roadrunner exhibition schedule is the toughest in BC with tilts vs Washington State's North Kitsap, third ranked Seaquam, AAA powerhouse WJ Mouat and seventh ranked South Delta a statement to this squad's expectations. If the Roadruners come out of this crucible healthy and unified, they ought to cakewalk through leage play prior to the big divisional tilt with emerging rival Robert Bateman. The Mission roster is easily the deepest in AA ball.
2. John Barsby: A solid group of veteren players worked very hard over the winter to improve their overall physicality. The returning varsity are joined by a strong group of JV's from last year's championship finalist squad. Spring ball however was inconsistent for the Dawgs who struggled somewhat to distance past success from present reality/challenges. If strong leadership emerges within the roster Barsby will be a force by the time league play begins in October. Look for last year's record setting offensive juggernaut to have a new wrinkle or two in 2011 as they seek to replace many key positions up front vacated due to graduation. Defensively the Dawgs are going to be fast and special teams will be a "Pride and Joy" crew week-to week.
3. Seaquam: The Seahawks are veteren, deep up front and have the power backfield they like to employ. Defensively these guys can play smashmouth with anyone and they rarely if ever find themselves out-finessed by opposing offenses. There is definitely a pattern with this program of week-to-week improvement and they will be solid during the critical divisional tilts of October. With the roster, offensive and defensive schemes such as they are, the kicking-game will be all important for the gold and blue.
4. Handsworth: The Handsworth football program has been exploding in terms of participation the past three years at the grade 8 and JV levels. The varsity are now reaping the harvest and the Royals are going to be very deep across the board in 2011. A championship appearance last year provided a lot of quality reps and preparation for this year's returning crew and this will be evident right out of the gates in September. Handsworth can very realistically set their sights on a return to the big game in 2011. While the re-match versus Barsby in week six is going to be huge and emotionally charged, divisional opponents Ballenas and South Delta had best not be overlooked as they look to secure a little redemption themselves.
5. Holy Cross: OK, lets talk pride and pressure. The Crusaders took some body blows from their former AAA bretheren over the decision to join AA ball. Hec, I am sure there are mixed feelings within the program about the issue as well. The last thing these guys want to do is be a bust their first year in AA. A few short years ago, these guys won it all vs the Foxes, VC's, Centennials and Mouats of the big school league. So, pride of program meets all kinds of external and internal pressure. This could be a recipe for football TNT. The roster is surely deep athletically and it is battle hardened from playing top flight competition. The challenge and excitement for the Crusaders will be in playing teams whom they know very little about. Also, AA ball the past three years has certainly firmed up its game with the parity that has come with the creation of Tier 2. Word through the coaching grapevine is that the HC saff thinks it has a pretty darn good squad on its hands. How good? Lets talk in December.
6. Robert Bateman: Do any of you history buff's remember Joe Stalin's 5 Year plans? Well, these guys are on a 3-year plan as far as I can tell. Big school, starts off year 1 with a varsity squad at Tier 2 and a LOADED JV squad with a 35 plus man roster that is completely 10th graders. Those JV's were dang good athletes who made it to the quarter-finals. The varsity crew got some good seasoning keeping things tough and vanilla their first year. Now its year two and the varsity are playing AA ball. The bulk of this group will be 11's, but the 12's will be present enough to add some great leadership and physicality to the mix. The coaching is very good as well and opponents can expect to run up against the whole offensive and defensive package with this outfit. My impression from watching their JV's last year was a physical, mentally tough, competitive squad with far better than average speed and size. When they learn to play with their pads a bit lower they are going to be frightening. Mission may have the best talent through and through this year, but Bateman is not too far off of the mark. This team will make the playoffs in 2011, it won't be a fun draw for their first round opponent. Now I said 3 year plan. It's waaaaay early but hey, they ought to be the Eastern favorite in 2012. Thats right Mission, get your licks in this year while you can.
7. South Delta: The Sundevils are in a unique position amongst the AA elite. They get great talent every year from their feeder program but that talent is not schooled in the Sundevil way of doing things as South Delta does not run a JV squad. Each year however, this squad plays playoff calibre ball and they won the whole shebang in 2008. How so? Well, this is a very big school, very close to AAA size, so a ready pool of athletes is always on hand. Secondly, the coaching staff is very good. The South Delta team that lines up in the week 9 league finale vs Barsby is going to be a lot better than the early and mid-season version. The coaches have also proven over time a superb ability to match scheme with the talent at hand. Spread or Power, the offense in Navy and Gold colors will be getting the most out of its very talented athletes. The defense is coached up in much the same way. A one or two seed coming out of "The West" is not unimaginable by any stretch for this crew.
8. Ballenas: Aaaannndd here come The Whalers! Anybody out there watch college football on Saturdays? Auburn's first year with their offense showed signs of greatness in 2009. In 2010 it led them to a national title. Take a look at them Whalers when they have the ball in their hands. The similarities are manifest. Ballenas is a two headed monster at quarterback and has a veteren receiver corps that includes one individual who is easily provincial calibre. Up front, they have their traditional size and lots of xxxl game pants have been pulled off of the equipment room shelf for 2011. Defensively, the swagger is back and Coach Hines can do his thing with his LB's now there is a line to keep people off of em. Whaler specials are good to say the least. This team is very complete and will challenge any squad in the division come game day, particularly Handsworth. The Ballenas defense has historically dominated the Royal offense like no other.
9. Hugh Boyd: After a down year by Trojan standards, Boyd is back! A big influx of size and athleticism is moving up from JV and this proud program has too much tradition/competitive juice to be held down for a second straight year. The coaching staff is deep and we can all rest assured that the midnight oil has been burning late into the early AM in preparation for this year's gridiron campaign. With plenty of size up-front, look for the Trojans to get things done inside the box while going big over the top. The Seaquam game and Holy Cross tilt are gonna pop some helmet screws to be sure. It won't be all vanilla however so teams better prep for some circus plays along the way. Defensively we are going to see a patient, gang tackling unit that does not often surrender the big play. The kicking game is going to be decisive in each game the Trojans play.
10. Rick Hansen: Two mediocre JV seasons for the Hurricanes add up to more of the same at varsity in 2011....Wrong! These guys do a great job of developing players along the way and the coaching staff has proven itself to be able to win games at the highest level over the years. This year Hansen has great skills players and an offensive line that will allow them to play some pretty balanced run-pass offense. Hurrican special teams are always well coached and they use their better athletes in these key units. The biggest question mark headed into 2011 is going to be defense. If Hansen can keep things tight late into the 4th quarter this year, their offense has the scheme and playmakers to secure the W more often than naught. Mission and Bateman are going to be too tough for anything other than a number three seed out of the division however. Playoffs are a funny thing however and a good opening draw could lead the Hurricanes deep into the post-season tournament.