COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Crocus Plains High School's Victor St. Pierre
Ever since the Vincent Massey Vikings rejoined the Winnipeg High School Football League, they have dreamed of playing in the top division. This year, they’ll finally get their chance.
After their strong season in 2012, the Vikings have moved up to the top tier in the league, the John Potter (AAA) Division, and they know they’ll have their hands full. Most teams in the Potter Division have the luxury to cut players, but that’s not the case with Massey as head coach Mike Steeves takes any player willing to come out, and they’ll still be outmanned. The top division will also give the Vikings bigger and more athletic opponents, but Steeves can’t wait to cut his teeth against the province’s superlative squads.
"It definitely makes it a little more challenging, but I think that’s what makes it fun," Steeves said. "You build the team with the pieces you have. For us, we have some great coaches and I think it’s a great challenge for us."
Massey is coming off a solid season in which it posted a 4-2-1 record in the Kas Vidruk (AA) Division and won its first ever playoff game before falling in the semifinals to the Grant Park Pirates.
Massey has lost quarterback Evan Didychuk, running back James Johnson and receiver/ defensive back Michael Bright to graduation, but Steeves has faith in players coming up this year. Thomas Moroz moves up from the JV ranks to take over at quarterback, while Matt Bryant will take most of the handoffs in the backfield for Massey. Jace Mills and Cassidy Obijiaku are expected to be the main threats at receiver. It’s the defence, led by linebackers Steven Gresl, Ty Kuz and Connor Mills, that the team hopes to showcase as its strength again this season.
"Massey has been known for an amazing defence," said Steeves, whose team kicks off the season Friday when they host the Murdoch MacKay Clansmen at 5 p.m. "We always lead the league in defensive categories. I think that’s always our strength and that will keep us in most of the games. Offensively, we’ve got some challenges, but with some new young players, I think we’ll be able to throw the ball well this year and we’ll be able to run well."
The Vikings aren’t the only Brandon team moving up the ranks this year, as the Neelin Spartans, who were finalists in the Andy Currie (A) Division last season, have move up to the Kas Vidruk. However, Neelin is without running back Dylan Minshull, who set a Currie Division record last season with 1,430 rushing yards. Minshull graduated and, along with fellow Neelin alumnus Brandon Williams and Bright, joined the University of Regina Rams this season.
Spartans head coach Robert Cullen admitted he doesn’t have another rusher of Minshull’s calibre, and expects to use about five different running backs, including Nick Ukleja and Dustyn Lamont. Quinton Hunter and Brock Hiltner will play on both sides of the ball, while Matt Mitchler will lead the defensive secondary for the fourth straight year.
The Spartans will be young and have a small roster this season, so Cullen hopes athleticism will help make up for any mistakes stemming from inexperience as they move into the AA ranks.
"Any time it’s a big jump," he said. "Each division has it’s own little quirks to it, but the difference is the players and the size and speed of players in the Kas Vidruk, and the same going into the Potter Division. There’s a lot more athletes on each team as opposed to down in the Currie Division.
"We’re just going out taking it one week at a time and trying to be competitive."
The Spartans kick off the season today when they visit the Sturgeon Heights Huskies, a team that dropped down from the Potter Division.
The Crocus Plainsmen also start their season on the road today against a former Potter Division squad, facing the defending AAA finalist Miles Macdonell Buckeyes.
The Plainsmen are staying in the Kas Vidruk Division and hope to improve on their 1-6 mark from last season. They have two big losses on offence with starting quarterback Ryan Baker and receiver Taylor Maloney having graduated. However, they do have a pair of players who represented Manitoba at the Football Canada Cup this summer in running back Victor St. Pierre and offensive lineman Brayden Moroz.
"It’s pretty nice when you get a provincial team running back as your starting tailback," head coach Kevin Boyd said. "That’s not a terrible problem to have. He’s just fun to watch. You have to be careful as a coach, you get caught watching him as a fan sometimes. He’s got some moves that I have absolutely no idea how the human body can move like that."
Boyd is confident his offensive line will be able to open up some holes for St. Pierre and protect new starting quarterback Matthew Mott, although the team lacks depth. Crocus listed only five offensive linemen on its roster and two of them are in Grade 10.
Steven Siebrecht, who set a Kas Vidruk record with 93 tackles last year, is back at linebacker and will anchor the Plainsmen defence that will also feature Tyler Ingraham and Jordan Knott at linebacker as well as Nathan Knott in the secondary.
Boyd is confident and can’t wait for kickoff today.
"I heard it put perfectly on the NFL Network the other day: That’s payday," he said. "For all the hard work you do, that’s payday, that’s game day. I’m quite excited. I want to see how we stack up against guys in our own division."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 5, 2013