No high school sport in the city hits the ground running quite as quickly as the SDSSAA football loop. With a large number of teams returning at least a handful of veterans in key positions, one would expect this season to be as competitive as any in recent memory.
Following is a brief breakdown of every team along with their predicted finish (also known as “Randy’s best guess”), all in good fun, of course:
Lo-Ellen Park Knights (6-0): The mix of impact players in key slots —QB Brady Ellsworth, RB Matt Glass, Jacob Czaja on the defensive line, linebacker Jeff Neault and safety Eric Donaldson — provides a great starting base for one of the city’s top coaches. But it is really the wealth of talent across the field, on both sides of the ball, that should give the Knights the edge this year. Josh Stamplecoski (offensive line), Connor Mick (linebacker) and Aaron Lachapelle (slotback) are among those who should also make their presence felt as the Knights look for their first city championship since 2009.
Notre-Dame Alouettes (5-1): If not for the graduation of QB Dan Poirier and backfield mate Zach Roque, the Als could easily supplant the Knights as my favourite to win it all this year. Exactly how quickly incoming pivot Pat Lemieux makes a comfortable transition to the role of starter could determine just how close CND might come. The good news for Lemieux is that Notre-Dame offers a solid core of surrounding talent on offence, combined with what will be the city’s top defensive unit. The contrasting size of Louis Chartrand and J-F Larochelle line up in the backfield, while receivers Kevin Lavoie and Jonathan Landry will get their share of catches. But it’s the return of four all-stars on defence — linemen Mathieu Langevin and Ntumba Malunda, linebacker Brett MacDonald and halfback Marcus Britt — combined with a large number of fifth-year players at Notre-Dame, that gives rise to plenty of optimism in 2012.
St. Charles Cardinals (4-2): The Cards are a couple of years removed from the Chris Duke-led group that challenged for local football supremacy, but the 2012 edition is solid. Junior Gladiators sensation Connor Chezzi moves from receiver to quarterback, with Mitchell Howatt and Matt Kuzenko in the backfield and Jake Graham and August Danyluk hauling in passes. The linebacker core of Ian MacDonald, Chris Fabiilli and Nathan Murray will rival any in the city, and the likes of Jonah Lynott and Christian Poloni on the lines means St. Charles will be tough, as always, in the trenches.
Lasalle Lancers (3-3): Things get interesting behind the top three. Lasalle might be the most difficult of the mid-level teams to predict. The team features some impressive skill spread across the field — running backs Ken Bottrell and Joe Jelen, all-star linemen Tim Glasgow and Ty Houlahan, Dylan West anchoring the defensive secondary. Yet the Lancers continue to be plagued by attendance issues at practice, certainly moreso than most teams I visited. The question here is whether natural athleticism can overcome the execution of other programs that comes with time spent doing repeated reps.
Lively Hawks (3-3): What the Hawks lack in comparative numbers to some of the larger schools, they more than make up for in top level talent. It starts with returning all-star quarterback Hunter Holub, just entering Grade 11. He will look to an offensive arsenal that includes Scott Friesen, Dakota Lacroix, Jesse Brear and Thomas Rideout to put points on the board. Defensively, the Hawks will rely on Andrew Andretta, Brandon Taylor, Aaron Rysdale and Billy Kosar to try to keep things close enough to pick up some big wins. All in all, Lively is likely one year away from being able to truly challenge the big boys.
Confederation Chargers (3-3): Yet another team returning some nice pieces of the puzzle, the question in the land of the Chargers is simple enough: will coach Brandon Dougan be forced to use his key players on both sides of the ball so much so that they lose their effectiveness against deeper teams? The Valley East crew was bolstered by the decision of quarterback Ethan Gorman to return for a fifth year, with both Tom Cousins and Brandon Gaudette returning in the backfield, while Scott Beaton and Jordan Villeneuve present familiar targets on the receiving end. Linemen Tyler Nadon and Brady Wallace, slotbacks Joey l’Heureux and Dylan Lloyd and safety Josiah Walt are among the other key contributors to the success of the Confederation fortunes this year.
Lockerby Vikings (2-4): A younger and smaller-than-usual team at Lockerby provides some promise for the future, though it may be tough sledding in 2012. Zack Larabie has won the starting job at QB, at least for the time being, with Connor Griffiths and Cam McDermid offering some help offensively. Linemen Hayden Tallon, Keegan Basso and Devin McCulloch as well as linebacker Cameron MacDonald are certainly exceptions to the size comment above, but the development of the remainder of the supporting cast will decide whether the Vikes can play .500 football.
St. Benedict Bears (1-5): No team in the league was hit harder by departures than the defending champs, with the loss of a glut of graduating players compounded by the decision of head coach Frank Rocca not to return to the team this year. Newcomer Lance Patry inherits some top-end talent in the form of running back Christian Battistelli, safety Emerson Carniel and centre Troy Kingsbury, but there are an awful lot of question marks for a team that has consistently had far more answers than uncertainties.
Bishop Carter Gators (0-6): The Gators will be better than their inauguration to the high school football ranks one year ago. Coach Matt Greening has managed to add an assistant or two along the sidelines, Dylan Ricciuto should add some on-field leadership after a summer with the varsity Gladiators and the likes of Anthony Campioni, Jordan Desilets and Patryk Thompson will all benefit from the experience of 2011. That said, it still won’t be enough to add up to a school first victory for the fledgling program, though some of the games will remain much more competitive.
Randy Pascal is the founder of SudburySports.com and a contributing sports editor at Northern Life.