Gridiron's 2012 AA Pre-Season Special
The season is just around the corner and across the province hope springs eternal as that special time of the year when pads crack, whistles blow and the crowds roar approaches.
Looking at the league this year it is hard not to come to the conclusion that parity is surely at hand. Sitting atop of the various conference standings come early November will be no cake walk and the playoffs will be loaded with great match-ups through and through.
GI's AA Varsity Pre-Season Top Five
1. Mission Roadrunners: Mission served-up a dominant season in 2011 and looks to follow-up where they left off. Offensively this group has perhaps the most complete and explosive group of "skill position" players at any level in BC. QB Kevin Weins is spectacular and the drop-off between him and his number two is not so far as folks may think. Up front the Roadrunners are a tad smaller than last year, but they have more depth all round. Defensively, this is a very solid crew at every position. Mission special teams are very well coached and the pool of game breaking athletes on the roster make this phase of the game a headache for all comers. Until someone can take these guys to the matt and finish em, they are the favorites to go wire-to-wire as BC's #1 in 2012.
2. John Barsby Bulldogs: The Barsby varsity squad is coming off of a remarkable 23-1 run over the past two years with the one loss coming to arch-rival Mission in last year's Subway Bowl game. Most of the players on this year's roster have met the Roadrunners in back-to-back JV Subway Bowl games. A third go-around with the green and white nemisis is possible, but only if the Dawgs TCB in their tough division and in playoff tilts to follow. Barsby returns a big chunk of its offensive group from 2011 and welcomes up a superb group of players from last years JV Champion group. Offensively, the key for the Dawgs is to find the right combination of big-guys up front to get the "chainsaw" offense revving at full rpms. Defensively the Dawg D is in a massive rebuild. With an opener vs AAA champion Mt. Douglas on the horizon, there is a definite sense of urgency on that side of the ball. Barsby Special Teams are known as "pride and joy" units within the program and they can be game changers on any given Friday. Look for this squad to improve week-to-week across the season headed into post-season play.
3. South Delta Sundevils: This group may very well be the most improved squad coming out of 2011 with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove to the league and to themselves. There is superb talent at every position and the offensive team speed is flat out scarey. I really like the spread with power pistol look, the perimeter run and the great misdirection this offense brings to the table. The Sundevils can sling the ball via the air as well! A complete offense to contend with no doubt and opposing defenses will really have to do their homework vs this group! Defensively, the blue and gold are physical and fast. The difference maker in big games could very well be the special teams groups which if history holds true, will be solid as well. The Sundevils are ducking no one with their schedule, are loaded with athletes and should secure their divisional title outright in 2012.
4. Robert Bateman Timberwolves: Year three of the Bateman rise through the ranks. At the JV level, this group of athletes played in the 2010 quarter-final and the 2011 semi-final games. At varsity, the record was not as good with 2011 being a big disapointment. Last year's crew was making great headway until a rash of key injuries set them back a ways. There is a hunger in this program to crash the varsity playoffs in a big way. The athletes are surely present to get things done! Offensively, look for an offensive scheme to match the dynamic backs and receivers who will be running it. Up front there is size and experience across the board. I think these guys will be able to score points in a hurry via the ground and the air. Big explosive plays will characterize this crew. Defensively, we will see a lot of pressure and again, big plays. Specials will be tough and the punt/kick return game in particular will feature some turf shredding performances. If you don't read between the lines very well, this crew will be explosive in 2012! Keys for the Timberwolves this season: 1) Stay Healthy 2) Beat the "beatables" within the conference 3) Compete with Mission in the big game. Point three is huge! Bateman is Mission's lil bro and until they can go toe-to-toe with the Roadrunners, the Timberwolves cannot claim to be provincial contenders. Family dynamics in the Eastern Conference ought to be fun to watch!
5. Ballenas Whalers: This is the most talented group of Whalers the program has seen since perhaps 2005. The offense is led by returning qb Liam O'Brian who shattered AA passing records in 2011. The offensive line is massive and anchored by three year starter Brock Mould, a two way lineman destined for all province honors in 2012. "Skill positions" are loaded and Coach Conn will have more wrinkles in the offense than a retired circus elephant. Defensively, the boys in Blue will match-up speed wise very well against most spread looks and they have the size and tenacity to dance with the power "O's lurking on the schedule. Special teams are going to be polished and this crew will definitely capitalize on anyone caught napping vs short kicks, fakes and other devilry the Whalers bring to the dance. The one achilles heal for this crew is depth. If some new players step-up and can be developed, this will be a complete squad. There is a great chance that this team will be undefeated in conference play headed into the 2012 Border Battle on October 26th vs Ballenas's Darth Vader, the John Barsby Bulldogs. If the playoff draw is favorable and the Whalers remain healthy, these guys could be playing in early December.
Ranking The Conferences
1. WesternConference: The West is loaded with quality programs and with the addition of Carson Graham from AAA, there figures to be a dogfight week-in and week-out come regular season play. To get an idea of what these programs have accomplished in recent history, check this out: 99 Barsby finalists, 2000 Barsby Champions, 2001 Ballenas finalists, Windsor Champions, 2002 Windsor finalists, Ballenas Champions, 2003 Handsworth Finalists, 2004 Windsor Champions, 2005 Windsor Champions, 2007 Handsworth Champions, 2009 Windsor finalists, 2010 Handsworth finalists, Barsby Champions, 2011 Barsby finalists. Noteworthy is Carson Graham's 2001 AAA BC championship and Nanaimo District's 2011 Tier 2 championship. Importantly, most of the coaching staffs remain in place for these programs. It is a cynch to say that on any given day, one squad can beat another out west and newcomer Argyle is making big strides towards finding their place in this ongoing brawl.
2. Eastern Conference: Mission is the big dog in this group...for now. Bateman and Abbey are finding their feet and Rick Hanson is on the rise as well. A divisional upset of Mission will signal that the second tier out east has arrived. If anyone can do it, I'd bet on Bateman as they have the sheer numbers and athletes on campus to match-up. Abbey is very tough physically and fundamentally sound. The Panthers are going to scrap hard and games vs Bateman and Hansen are going to be epic. Pitt Meadows projects to be an improvement over 2011.
3. Southern Conference: In terms of pure competitiveness within the division, this group is tough to beat. The SunDevils have the talent to win the South, but they have to contend with well coached and talent ridden squads such as Holy Cross, Hugh Boyd and Seaquam. There will be some slobber-knocker games come October and South Delta will have to be on their A-game throughout to prevail. Divisional newcomers Belmont and Eric Hamber have their work cut-out for them and have a long ways to go to contend with the top four.
4. Northern Conference: A lot of hard work and investment in upping their game using exhibition tilts vs out of conference competition has begun to pay dividends for the squads up in El Norte. Nechako Valley and Dutchess park had competent showings in the playoffs last year and both squads look to improve in 2012. Not far off the mark is the rest of the conference and we can expect the teams that represent the North in November, to be potential spoilers in the post-season tourney.
5. Interior Conference: Kudos to Vernon on earning their way into the provincial semi-final game last November. The Panthers will surge again in 2012 and will fight it out with Kalmalka and SKS for divisional dominance. The rest of the competition will not be far off the front three.
Projected Order of Finish By Conference
This will be a QB dominated conference. Wiens (Mission), Carter (Abbottsford), Ho (Rick Hansen), Friesen (Robert Bateman), Pitt's QB is quite good as well. All are athletic, competitive, and leaders. Overall, conference play should be much tighter than in years past with lopsided victories fewer and far between. Expect massive parity in the battle to sort out who finishes 2-5 in this group.
1. Mission Roadrunners: The loss of 18 players to graduation off of last year's championship team definitely changes this squad's complexion headed into 2012. QB Kevin Weins ought to be one of the dominant players in the province this season and as his supporting casts develops around him, big things are on the horizon. The Roadrunners will keep elements of their very successful power game in 2012, but look for more of an Oregon style jailbreak offense with all of the speed that is going to be on the field. Defensively, Mission quietly put together one of the top two defenses in the province last year and I see no variation as the fall aproaches. Opponents take heed, there are three phases of football in the game and fixating of this team's offense is a fatal overlook of what else they are bringing to the dance. Make no mistake, there is championship talent throughout the roster, it is just different than the 2011 crew, not worse, just different.
2. Robert Bateman Timberwolves: Batemen's JV success the past two years would seemingly translate into a similar surge at the varsity level in 2012. The program abounds with size, speed, experience and overall football talent led by dynamic QB Tanner Friesen. The big disconnect previously has been that the varsity squad runs a significantly different scheme than their JV's and at times this has seemed questionable. Seemingly resolved by the movement of the JV staff up with their players, late breaking scuttlebutt however, has this not occuring. Are we in for more of the same? Tough to say one way or the other. The talent and the "want to" are in place and its going to be tough to hold this crew back irregardless of who is roaming the sidelines.
3. Abbottsford Collegiate Panthers: These guys have a brand new school/football facility in 2012 and a very experienced coaching staff. There ought to be a lot of excitement on campus and in the locker-room! A lot of superb talent was lost to graduation, but the program is solid and by consistently doing the right thing the end results will be consistently positive for the Panthers. Abbottsford is physical and tough, a total reflection of their weight room activities and their coaching. A week 2 exhibition game at Barsby will be telling to say the least headed into the balance of the season.
4. Rick Hansen Hurricanes: A surprising defeat of Seaquam in the 2011 playoffs seems to have been an indicator of good things to come for the Hurricanes. The gold and blue built on this momentum by doing some very good things with 7 on 7 ball this spring. The offensive and defensive lines are very big and we can expect a lot of run-pass balance offensively and the meat to play smashmouth defensively against thos who like to pound the rock. A talented and experienced coaching staff will have this squad competing for the number two spot divisionally each and every weekend.
5. Pitt Meadows Marauders: Pitt is quite athletic this year with a new, energetic and cerebral coaching staff at the helm. Overall, this group is a step-up from last year's version of the Marauders. In spring 7 on 7 this crew was running no-huddle, high tempo schemes and they took care of a visiting Belmont squad in their spring scrimmage. There is much more to do in terms of joining the divisional elite, but this program is on the right trajectory. A long shot to make the playoffs in 2012, the Marauders need to tie it all together in order to crash the post-season party.
A conference on the rise, the North will be highly competitive amongst its member programs in 2012. The geography has lent itself to the building of great rivalries and game nights at Massey are a hoot. Look for a four team race for the title with a great product seeding out to the provincial playoff tourney.
1. Nechako Valley: Finished as playoff champions in both varsity and JV last season so expect big things from the Vikings this year. Offensively, these guys are innovative and can move the ball in big chunks. The combination of quarterback Connor Nielsen and receiver Scott Wallace will make it tough for most teams in the North to keep the Vikings off of the scoreboard. The Viking defence will be anchored by linebacker TJ VanDamme and defensive back Landon Brophy who were impact players with the Viking conference chamionship squad last year. In a nutshell, being top dog in the North means getting past this crew!
2. Duchess Park: After winning the regular season and being in the northern finals, Duchess Park should have no problems making a repeat trip to the conference championship tilt this season. With stud offensive lineman Brogan Cuse and his teammates up front providing time for quarterback Rylan Matters to find his favorite deep threat target Montell Lindgren, the Condors offence should light up the scoreboard most nights this fall. Defensively the Condors will be tough with defensivel back Dhalathan Khandasamy and linebacker Brandan Moreau leading a group that will be athletic and physical every time they hit the field.
3. Kelly Road: It will be a new look Roadrunners squad that takes the field in 2012 that will have veteran presence in all the right places that are needed to help the new fellas find their stride. Quarterback Zach Zapporozan-Jones and receivers Jordan Angove and Seth Lowery will be the players to set the pace the Roadunner offense this year. They will be complimented by a big strong group of players moving up from JV. Look for the Roadrunners to continue their "bend but not break" defensive ways with Efensive lineman Jesse Pike and defensive back Ryan Weisgerber setting the tone for a physical defensive unit. If all three phases of the game line up, the roster remains healthy and the new guys step-up, a challenge for conference supremacy is legit!
4. College Heights: The Cougars offense will be lead by receiver Kayle Thomas and runningback Kurtis Dingwall., The rest of the offensive crew will be young and finding their identity early in the season. The Cougars should be in every game with linebackers Daniel Blondin and Kalen Botel teaming up with hitman safety Kieran Muir to keep opposing squads in check night in and night out. A small bench could cause for late season problems for the young Cougars squad so in school recruiting/development a premium for the coaching staff.
5. Prince George: Returning Polar playersDusten Betker (QB), Tyler Scully (OL), and Tyrell Laing (WR) won't have an easy task after losing a bunch of teammates from key positions to graduation. It is never easy to rebuild when you don't have a JV team to fill such holes. On the bright side PGSS is a huge school and tougguys abound in the hallways. The Polar coaching staff knows this and will have mean green in fighting shape come mid-September. Rebuilds can be fun and opponents are often at a scouting disadvantage early on as they have no background on the new guys suiting up to play. This is the conference dark-horse for 2012.
6. Correlieu: The Clansmen are still trying to build the identity of their program. They lost alot of good players from last season so much like the PGSS crew this will be re-build year for the sons of Quesnel. Look for a big emphasis on the ground game and a strong run defense as things get simple and tough en-route to October's key games.
The Okanagen Conference has never been as "up for grabs" as it is now in 2012. There is no single program with all the pieces in place to clearly dominate although SKS might be closest to the mark. Coaching and leadership are going to be decisive and the team that can build unity and purpose on its roster behind a defense and some rhythem offense is going to emerge at the top of the pack. Should be interesting!
1. South Kamloops Titans: The Titans are a very large AA school and boast the most pure roster talent in the Interior conference. This group was surging late in the season last year and will pick-up where it left off entering September competition.
2. Kalmalka Lakers: The Lakers played a solid game in the playoffs last year vs South Delta and return much of their roster which will be grade 12 heavy for this year's season. This may be the last kick at the varsity can so-to-speak with no JV squad to support and there is a sense about the program that now is the time to make their mark. The Lakers will be one of the faster teams in the Interior in 2012.
3. Vernon Panthers: Vernon did a terrific job making it to the semi-finals and this experience/momentum will carry them along nicely headed into September. Spring job action by the BCTF had a negative effect however and solidifying the roster is of paramount concern for the coaching staff. With Fulton out of the picture in 2012 this crew could again surge in the late Autumn months.
4. Valleyview Vikings: With just over a half-dozen grade 12's suiting up in 2012 the Vikings are going to have to mature quickly to compete for a playoff spot. This squad has been well led over the years and I see no reason why they will not be in the mix come late October. A solid running game and some tough defense will surely be featured by this group.
5. Okanagen Mission Huskies: After a bit of a qualitative slide the past couple years, the Huskies may have turned the corner toward an ascent to the upper echelons of the division. It really comes down to roster numbers and winning the winnables while playing mistake free ball in underdog games as the season unfolds. The Huskies could finish as high as second or third place in 2012. September has to be gold!
6. Westsyde Blue Wave: With solid roster numbers the Blue Wave are entering AA play for the first time in years. In a division with some roster issues, the depth at Westsyde could be telling come October. Much like the Huskies, this group could surprise and finish higher than predicted.
7. Mt. Baker Wild: There have been improvements at Mt. Baker Football and at least one rival coach in the division predicts that the Wild will upset several teams who take them lightly. If the athletes turn out for the school program, this could be the divisional dark horse.
The Southern Conference went down to a three way tie and tie-breaking formula for playoff seeding in 2011. While this will likely not occur again in 2012 it is still possible as there is great parity at the top-end of the group. South Delta is the team to beat followed closely by very physical Holy Cross and massive Hugh Boyd. Seaquam enters a big rebuild year with a large group of players and good talent to work with. Belmont has a complete roster and faces the challenge of gaining consistency and the physicality to compete in AA. Langley's qb is a bit of an unknown, but word has it he is athletic and has a good supporting cast in 2012. Eric Hamber is going through its formative years with very tough competition week-to week.
1. South Delta Sundevils: Coach Moon's Sundevils are solid at every position and if they can be defined by any single criteria, it would be team speed. Size up front is not an issue and the offense will be extremely balanced in terms of run-pass. Defensively, the blue and gold flow well to the ball and like the physical side of the game. Specials are always good with this program and opponents who are not prepared for every form of trick play in the book will get burned sooner rather than later.
2. Holy Cross Crusaders: The move to AA ball was a good one for the Crusaders and was surely an eye opener in terms of the overall parity/quality of ball in the tough division of play. The Crusaders play great power ball and are going to need to vs the physical rosters that abound in the South. Look for more clock eating drives and some serious inside run defense from this squad. A break away running back will emerge in 2012 along with some big play receivers off of the play action passing game.
3. Hugh Boyd Trojans: This group of Trojan players finished two years ago in the JV semi-final game giving eventual champion Mission all it could handle along the way. The overall size and physicality of this roster is remarkable and they can stand toe-to-toe with SD and HC on any given game day. Special teams and the ability to defend the edge/vertical routes will determine how the Trojans seed into the 2012 playoff tourney. Make no mistake, this will be an improved group over 2011 and a deep playoff run is a distinct possibility.
4. Seaquam Seahawks: Very big strides have been made in improving roster depth and overall numbers of athletes out for football at Seaquam in 2012. With the raw materials in place, the coaching staff is going to have to develop this group into a fighting force in September's exhibition games in order to wade into key October conference games vs the upper crust of the South. There are a lot of unknowns with the Seahawks, but the knowns tell me this crew could be explosive once they find their feet. Once again, the pressure couldn't be greater on the coaching staff to get folks lined up to contend for a playoff position.
5. Belmont Bulldogs: Belomont has been making steady progress as a program the past half decade. A perennial top four team in Tier 2, the Bulldogs will have few if any easy game days in AA ball. The divisional schedule is going to be tough and the ability to dance with serious power running games without robbing coverage too heavily is going to be a premium concern. There is size, speed and athleticism on the roster. Toughness is going to be the question. There will be no luxury of finessing opponents without having to engage in serious smashmouth football. A finish higher than fifth place will be a huge win and developmental milestone for this program. Possible, but not likely.
6. Langley Saints: Langley has had a good off-season and a lot of talented athletes within the school have come out to play ball this year. Lots of hard work and a group obsession with fundamentals could translate into some some great tilts vs divisional competition. There is hope around the locker-room coming off of a solid JV season in 2011. One year the Saints are going to break-out with a statement season, could this be it?
7. Eric Hamber Griffins: Tough sledding for the Griffins in 2012 no doubt. New team blues are all part of the growth process in HS football and this group needs to celebrate and build upon the small victories as it forges ahead to bigger years. Some advice, elevate defense and special teams to cult status within the program while running as simple an offense as possible. Follow this recipe and a win could emerge in 2012.
1. John Barsby Bulldogs: The Bulldogs are very balanced in 2012 and are deep in terms of experience/talent at most positions. The offensive and defensive backfields are very good in terms of speed, size and experience. The offensive and defensive lines are young and will have to solidify alot during the pre-season as Barsby hosts AAA champion Mt. Douglas the first Friday night that school is back in session. As the season progresses, look for this group to put its own stamp on "style of play" as it is unclear just what part of the game JB will come to really excel in. Special teams for the Dawgs are going to be dangerous, particularly in the return phase and there is a realization that the kicking game has to improve to win the biggest games along the way. The Dawgs have had an unprecedented opportunity season in the weight room and irregardless of what emerges, it will be physical.
2. Ballenas Whalers: The Whalers are entering the Coach Conn era as a program as the program recently undergone only its third coaching change in 12 years. The things that have always made the Whalers tough such as great tackling, technique and innovative offensive/defensive schemes will not disappear. The Whalers will be ready to play each and every week and will feature perhaps the best passing game in AA history in 2012. That is saying a lot, but the players are in place to execute and there is a solid veteren presence who know the system. As long as this roster stays healthy, they are a threat to rain points in every possible fashion come game day. Expect a well prepared defense week-to-week that is opportunistic in creating and recovering turnovers. Special teams will be good all round.
3. Carson Graham Eagles: Size, speed, more size and a physical approach to the game make Carson Graham an instant contender as they join the AA ranks in 2012. The Eagles are a threat to run the Western Conference table and will become more lethal week-to-week as the season progresses. The eligibility of stud running back Cody Pitman will play into the mix as he appeals for a sixth year of eligibility. If he is cleared, this squad is very complete. Without him, they are good enough to take care of their business anyways. The Eagles are balanced on offense and physical on defense. The punt and kick return game are very solid. Carson will be a double edged sword this year. Other than Handsworth, most of their opponents have not faced the Eagles and know very little about them. On the flip-side, Carson is equally in the dark. This makes for some fun stuff on game day!
4. Handsworth Royals: According to Coach Prepchuk, Handsworth is in a youth movement kind of year. There are big numbers out for ball, lots of size speed and talent as well. The offense will be led by one of BC's most exceptional young talents at QB and if his squad grows around him, look for good things come playoff time. It will be all about developing a defense to accompany the offensive scheme however for the Royals to be all they can be come November.
5. Nanaimo District Islanders: The Islanders have a very solid core of g. 12's as they return to AA competition in 2012. The eleventh grade is really going to have to step up to make this squad complete come conference play. This said, the squad is fairly complete up front and features a very good group of RB's, LB's, Rcvrs and DB's. I would describe this team as gritty and itching for contact each week. You can ride those horses a long ways and fifth place might be an underrated prediction on my part. An opening week road trip to South Delta will speak volumes about what is to come.
6. Windsor Dukes: The Dukes took their lumps in 2011 playing a bushel of 9th and 10th grade players at the varsity level. What emerged from this ordeal is battle hardened and in all liklihood, hungry and tough to rattle. The Dukes will likely run the ball just enough to take the pressure off of a passing game that will feature two way DB/Rcvr Randy Uhl for big plays as they present themselves. The Duke defense will be underrated early in the season, but will quickly earn the respect of opponents as their preparation pays off. The Dukes are the all time winningest program in AA and the coaching remains in place. They know how to win! Windsor, along with Nanaimo District are the dark horses in the Western Conference.
7. Argyle Pipers: The second-year Pipers are doing all the right things to succeed and they welcome a solid group from the JV ranks to their varsity group. I think that Argyle will compete week-in and week out along the way to positioning themselves for good things to come. Emerging from the season with a couple W's is not out of the question.
Gridiron's 2012 AA Jr. Varsity Pre-Season Projections
GI's AA Jr. Varsity Pre-Season Top 5
1. Mission Roadrunners
2. Holy Cross Crusaders
3. Carson Graham Eagles
4. Robert Bateman Timberwolves
5. John Barsby Bulldogs
Ranking The Conferences
1. Eastern Conference
2. Western Conference
3. Southern Conference
4. Island Conference
5. Interior Conference
6. Northern Conference
Projected Order of Finish By Conference
1. Mission Roadrunners
2. Robert Bateman Timberwolves
3. GW Graham Grizzlies
4. Rick Hansen Hurricanes
5. Abbottsford Panthers
6. SRT Titans
7. Pitt Meadows Marauders
1. Carson Graham Eagles
2. Handsworth Royals
3. Windsor Dukes
4. Sentinel Spartans
5. Argyle Pipers
6. Moscrop Panthers
1. Holy Cross Crusaders
2. Hugh Boyd Trojans
3. Seaquam Seahawks
4. Langley Saints
5. Early Marriot Mariners
6. Eric Hamber Griffins
1. John Barsby Bulldogs
2. Nanaimo District Islanders
3. Ballenas Whalers
4. Timberline Wolves
5. Belmont Bulldogs
6. G.P. Vanier Towhees
7. Mark Isfeld Ice
8. EJ Milne Wolvernines
1. Vernon Panthers
2. South Kamloops Titans
3. Kalmalka Lakers
4. W.L Seaton Sonics
5. Okanagen Mission Huskies
6. Valleyview Vikings
7. Norkam Saints
8. Westsyde Blue Wave
1. Nechako Valley Vikings
2. Dutchess Park Condors
3. Kelley Road Roadrunners
4. College Heights Cougars