THE sun is setting a little sooner these days and the odd drop of rain is hitting the pavement, sure signs that fall is on its way and high school football is about to get cracking.
It might be a stormy season ahead for the Handsworth Royals as a the school's population has forced the team to make the jump from the AA level to AAA for the first time in nearly a decade. The promotion has boosted the Royals into a powerhouse AAA conference featuring B.C. super teams such as Mount Douglas, Notre Dame and Vancouver College. It'll be a tall order for a team whose roster remains relatively short, but Handsworth head coach Jay Prepchuk said his boys are tackling it head on.
"We're super excited about the challenge, all the boys are super keen," he said Tuesday, a couple a preseason practices already under his belt. "I think there's a little bit more of an edge to our preparation and a little bit more attentiveness and a little bit more excitement."
Prepchuk said he knows the road the team is setting out on is a difficult one but it's not going to change the way they do business.
"It's going to be a huge jump but you know what, it doesn't matter whether you're getting ready for a Sunday flag football game or you're getting ready for playing Notre Dame or Vancouver College or Mount Douglas. .. you prepare the best you can. It's not like because you're playing AAA you're going to prepare more. We've always prided ourselves on working as hard as we can as coaches and getting our players to work as hard as they can whether they're going to play a Tier 2 team or a AAA team."
Adding to the pressure is the fact that the Royals didn't even make the playoffs last season when they played at the AA level. That, however, was a young team that only carried four Grade 12 students. This year the team has about a dozen Grade 12s, including quarterback Michael Lemoine who is entering his third year as the senior team's starter.
"He looks great - he's excited about the season and he's having a good camp so far," said Prepchuk. "He's a very fast player, he's got a good, quick release.. .. He's intelligent, he understands the game. He's a threat to run the ball too."
Other senior players expected to lead the team are Alex Banning and Eli Matsell, a pair of grinders who play running back on offence and linebacker on defence, as well as two-way lineman Ryan Matheson.
The Royals will get an early test this Friday when the host the West Vancouver Highlanders, the only other North Shore team in this year's AAA league. The Highlanders made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 last year, led by the power trio of quarterback
Johnny Franklin, receiver Blake Whiteley and running back/linebacker James Oswald. All three of them, however, graduated last year leaving some very big holes to fill.
"They were hugely important," said head coach Shawn Anderson. "We knew Blake was going to be good, we knew James was going to be good but Johnny we weren't sure, it was his first year at quarterback. But he blew it away last year, was a huge part of our offence."
Training camp for this season started Sunday night and it was obvious from the start that the Highlanders have a lot of work to do.
"We found out very quickly that we've got a lot of learning to do with a lot of new guys in key positions that haven't even played football before," said Anderson. "We want to be competitive in every game. We're low on numbers and we have a good group of Grade 11s and 12s this year but really we're very young at all of our positions."
Anderson will be counting on Grade 12 linebacker Bjorn Knutson to lead the charge on defence.
"He's a small guy but really fast, a really tough kid. We're really hoping he can help solidify the defensive side of things."
On offence running back Marcus Schwandner and receiver Matteo Lepur are the most experienced playmakers. Grade 11 quarterback Finn Morales will bump up to senior starter after playing the position with the junior team last season.
"He's a really smart football player, he understands what we do in a pass-happy offence," said Anderson. "He's not the strongest kid yet and needs to kind of grow into his body but he knows what to do with the ball The Royals and Highlanders, each with less than a week of training camp under their belts, will test out their systems in a scrimmage Friday starting at 2 p.m. at Handsworth.
"If it was soccer it would be called a friendly," said Prepchuk with a big laugh. "I don't like soccer terms."
Anderson, a former Handsworth player and coach, is happy to have a natural rival in the AAA league again after being the only North Shore team at that level last season. The two teams will meet again Oct. 11 at West Van in a regular season matchup.
"We're going to work hard to compete against the Mount Douglases and Vancouver Colleges of the world. .. but my view of a successful season is if we can really be competitive and come out with wins against Handsworth and Carson Graham and the other teams we play on the North Shore," said Anderson. "It's always nice to go over and play Jay. He's always a fun guy to play against, he's got about 100,000 plays so it makes it entertaining."
A action kicks off Friday as well with Windsor hosting Rick Hansen for a1 p.m. start. Argyle will host Frank Hurt at William Griffin Park Sept. 6 starting at 2:30 p.m. while Windsor will get another home game that same day with a 3:45 p.m. start against Earl Marriot. The annual Buchanan Bowl between Handsworth and Carson Graham is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 7 starting at 1:30 p.m. at Carson.
© Copyright 2013