This Manitoba Major Football League season will mark the end of an era for the Westman Wolverines.
This season will be the last time any of the founding members of the Wolverines will hit the gridiron before they age out, which could make it a different year for safety Brendon Brydges, defensive backs Ace Brown and Mason Kaluzniak as well as centre Tanner Sulik.
“It’s going to be an emotional season,” said Brydges, a Portage la Prairie native who is attending Brandon University. “I’m going to give it my all this season and give it that one little boost to get to the championship game this year. Hopefully we can make it there and come home with a championship.”
Those four joined the team when it was created five years ago and have been a part of it ever since. This season, however, could be a challenge for the three defenders as they will try to lead from the defensive backfield while the front seven will feature a lot of new faces.
The Wolverines aren’t returning any of their starting defensive lineman this season, while only Cole Easton and Adam McClelland are back at linebacker. The team has brought in Grant Maluga, a Crocus Plains graduate who spent three years with the Prairie Football Conference’s Winnipeg Rifles, to secure the defensive line as well.
Despite so many changes to the defence, Brydges believes the Wolverines will be tough to move the ball against.
“It will be tough to begin with, but we’ve got guys like Adam McClelland, and he was a big part of our defence last year, and Cole Easton at linebacker. Those guys are smart and know what they’re doing there, so they’ll haul in the front seven,” he said. “I would say we’re about as strong as we were last year, even with the loss of guys like T.J. (Simpson, an all-star linebacker last season).”
The Wolverine offence will have a different look to it as well with running back Shayne Sebree and fullback Chris Stantial, his lead blocker, aging out.
Westman head coach Dave Stantial is looking at a couple Vincent Massey Viking products — Jared Spearing and James Johnson — as well as Daniel Green from Rocanville, Sask., to fill the voids in the offensive backfield.
Stantial is also looking to see what veteran Seth Hume, in his last year of eligibility, can do at quarterback given more responsibility.
“We’re really excited to see what Seth can do with the ball this year and utilize his athleticism a little bit more than we have in the past,” he said. “The last few years we’ve had Shayne Sebree pounding the ball a lot with Chris Stantial, our fullback, just leading the way. He was no slouch carrying the ball when we needed those few yards and just pounding through. With those two gone, we have to mix things up a little bit this year.”
The Wolverines will open their season on Aug. 9 when they visit the North Winnipeg Nomads. Their home opener will take place on Aug. 16 when they host the East Side Eagles.
Westman is coming off a 4-3 season and an appearance in the league semifinals for the second straight year.
The team is eyeing one of the four playoff spots in the seven-team league this season and would love to get home advantage or find a way to get to the final.
“We still want to get into the playoffs,” Stantial said. “Without seeing what the other teams are like, I like our chances of finishing top-three.
“(Once you’re in the playoffs) then it’s anybody’s game and it showed last year. The Lions finished third and then beat the second-place team and then went on to beat the Eagles in the championship.”