For the first time in team history, the Sudbury Gladiators will open the Ontario Football Conference (OFC) season at home, and they're determined to hit the ground running.
Now a couple of weeks into full contact practices, the Gladiators are joined by the Junior Gladiators on the turf of the James Jerome Sports Complex, sporting a crew that is impressive in numbers alone.
Backed by a core of talented returnees, including the likes of quarterback Dan Poirier, running back Scott Smith, fullback Louis Chartrand, offensive lineman Carter Long and defensive lineman Will Harding, the Gladiators have also welcomed plenty of newcomers, many of who are familiar names to those who follow high school football closely.
Rob Staszak evolved at Lasalle Secondary to the point where the senior quarter-backed the team this past fall, as the Lancers dealt with a large exodus of graduating talent following the championship 2010 campaign.
But with Poirier closing out his varsity career this summer, Staszak said he understands he is on the move.
"I'm just going to play wherever they want me to play that will help us win games," Staszak said.
Still, the benefit of playing a full season in the shoes of Poirier as pivot with the Lancers provided valuable insight for Staszak, who will likely see action both as a wide receiver and slotback.
"In high school, it's not quite the same system, but it still helps out big time," he said. "Until you get back there and feel that pressure, you don't really know what it's like. As a receiver, you've got to be quick and you've got to help out your quarterback, because he's got a ton of decisions to make.
"But Dan (Poirier) is awesome," Staszak added. "He makes it look easy."
A long-time participant in a variety of team sports, Staszak insisted, like so many others before him, that football is fundamentally different.
"You're not five guys on the ice, or five guys on the court," he said. "You're 12 guys, on the field, and if you're not working together, it doesn't happen."
For his part, Mat Langevin has been a key cog in the well-oiled machine that is the Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes the past few years. With a brief exposure to offensive line duties in Grade 11, Langevin has really come into his own on the defensive side of the ball.
"You're more aggressive, there's less thinking, you just go out and hit," Langevin said. "But I have to work on getting off the line faster."
The Alouettes' program has traditionally supplied a solid nucleus of talent to the summer football teams, making it easy for newcomers, like Langevin, to follow suit.
"The guys from school convinced me to come and play," Langevin said. "This is a little harder, more intense. Everyone here is at a little higher level. It's good to come out and play in the summer, because once you go back to high school, you're one step ahead of everyone."
Both the Varsity Gladiators and the Junior crew will open their 2012 campaigns at home, in double-header action on May 26 at the James Jerome Sports Complex. The Junior Gladiators will kick things off, battling the Burlington Stampeders 2 at 1 p.m., with the Varsity Gladiators welcoming the Nipissing Wild at 4 p.m.
Posted by Laurel Myers