Cougars football gets head start
The official start of practice for the Centennial Cougars varsity football team came Tuesday on the first day of school.
Unofficially, it kicked off three days last week when senior players Noble Arterberry, Jon Hooker, Robbie Pereira and Ethan Robertson ran a mini-camp.
“The four older players ran the camp and one of our younger teammates, Nico D’Amelio, got everyone together,” Arterberry said.
As many as 16 players came out each day for the camp as the seniors helped give their younger teammates a jumpstart on the season.
“We are the seniors and we have been trained already. We more or less know what is going to go down in practice with lots of conditioning and stuff,” Hooker said. “The main purpose of a training camp in summer is to get the new and young guys ready for practices and let them know what the coaches expect out of them so they don’t come in and not know what they are doing.”
Running practice on Tuesday was newly minted head coach Brad Barter. He is in his sixth year of teaching design and technology at Centennial and has helped out with the football team every year. He has served as the team’s defensive coordinator and has added the role of head coach with former bench boss Dom Nero taking a step back to handle more administrative duties.
“I’m very excited for it,” said Barter, a 40-year-old Niagara Falls native who played high school football for AN. Myer under head coach Dennis O’Connor.
Barter’s biggest coaching influence is Collegiate football coach Nathan Greene, who he coached with at the St. Catharines school.
“I first started getting into coaching when Nathan started showing me some of the ropes and now things have gone on since then,” Barter said. “He is a great guy to learn from and I am pretty sure he has forgotten more about football than I will ever know.”
Barter has also learned a lot from Nero during his time at Centennial.
Helping Barter run practice Tuesday were Nero, Caleb Pelletier and Brandon Rocco. The latter two are former players who have rearranged their post secondary school schedules to help out their old team.
“Today (Tuesday) is just to get the kids out running around and give them some sense of normalcy coming back. We are starting on some of the conditioning but we are not trying to punish them too much because I know they have played a lot of video games over the last 18 months,” Barter said. “It’s conditioning and figuring out new positions because not playing for a year and a half, we lost a lot of seniors that had positions they knew and we didn’t have to shuffle people around. We are really starting from scratch.”
The thrill of being back on the football field was evident everywhere one looked.
“The kids are over the moon,” Barter said. “Just look at them. I am running them in the middle of the blazing sun and they are enjoying every minute of it. This is why I am out here. It’s to see them happy.”
It is also making Barter joyous.
“I couldn’t wait to be back out here,” he said. “I missed the connections with the kids and seeing them in a different light other than them being in the classroom. Seeing them out here, you have a different level of rapport with them and you can treat the whole student instead of just the student in your class.”
There were 22 kids were out at practice Tuesday.
“That is pretty good considering we didn’t say there was a practice. An announcement is going to go out tomorrow (Wednesday) morning and I expect a little bit more at practice tomorrow night and then hopefully on Thursday we will get an idea of what our real numbers will look like,” Barter said.
He and his fellow coaches know that they will need to take things slow.
“We have to run them enough but not enough that it pushes them to an injury. We want to ease them into it and I am going to be putting off contact as long as I can because of COVID protocols and everything like that,” Barter said. “I want to keep them apart because if we get one infection on the team we could lose our entire O (offensive) line or our entire receiver corps. It could be disastrous if we get one in there so keeping them appear as much as I can is the key.”
Barter and his fellow coaches are also stressing to players to be cautious in their interactions away from school.
“It’s on them and they have to be able to protect themselves and take that responsibility because they are young adults. They need to take that personal responsibility and realize that it’s not just about them. It is about the team as a whole and in order for us to make it through the season without any infections from COVID or whatnot, we need to work together as a team to keep us all out here and safe.”
The squad is also being extra cautious at practice.
“We are spreading out as much as we can and that’s why today I have them split up into the four corners of the field,” Barter said. “They are far enough away from each other and those are the four groups I am going to be sending into the office to say which kids were around which kids for today. If they do need to contact trace, we have a record.”
Centennial, who will have E.L. Crossley and Eastdale students playing on the team, knows what it needs to do to succeed.
“We have a great team out here and the big key will be discipline,” Baryer said. “We have to keep everyone focused on what they need to do and keeping everyone safe.”
And after a year’s absence from football, attendance at practice will be equally important.
“We also have a little bit of motivation because our championship game didn’t end the proper way two years ago,” he said. “We have some unfinished business and we have some very disciplined seniors out here who are going to help keep everyone on track. It’s going to be a team effort and we couldn’t ask for a better group to start with.”
Centennial lost to Grimsby 21-15 in Niagara Region High School Athletic Association Tier 2 football final in November 2019 on a controversial play at the end of the game.
Arterberry, a 12B student, has been starting on the offensive and defensive line for the Cougars for three seasons before the pandemic hit. He was ecstatic about being back on the football field.
“It feels great and it is amazing that we even have the opportunity to come back out here and start running around,” the 5-foot-11, 295 pounder said. “Hopefully soon we can have a good season and get a chance to knock some kids around.”
Arterberry missed the contact aspect of the sport.
“There’s nothing better than actually hitting someone and getting your aggression out. It is the only way you can do it legally and you won’t get in trouble for it,” he said, with a laugh.
High school football is important to him.
“Honestly, if you haven’t done any extracurricular activities you have missed out. It is amazing and it teaches you so much like teamwork and cooperation skills and gives you something to look forward to at the end of the day.”
He’s hoping to maybe play football at the next level and if not rugby. He is a member of the Niagara Wasps men’s rugby team.
“I will go wherever they want me but if get an opportunity for football that is my first love because I have been playing it since I was six years old.”