Irish an enigma in 2023
With four Niagara Catholic Athletic Association senior football titles won in the last five years, success has bred success for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
“There are a lot of things that have factored into that success and hopefully we can just keep it going,” Irish head coach Tim Bisci said. “We have kids who come into Grade 9 and they want to be a part of it. It is not a hard sell any more to kids in the hallway. In 2014 and 2014 when we weren’t playing well it was a tough sell to get a kid to come out. I remember we played Saint Paul in 2017 and when we won that game all of a sudden as I walked into the change room I had four or five texts from kids who wanted to play. Kids see that success and they get some playing time. It has been a lot of fun and kids want to be around it.”
Returning receiver Jordan Huggins credits the coaching staff for the team’s impressive run.
“At the end of the day, the coaches definitely bring out the best in us.”
Bisci describes this year’s roster as an enigma.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces. Defensively, our linebackers are back which is good and most of the secondary is back. The defensive line is going to be new. Offensively we are maybe five guys deep from last year,” he said. “We don’t know what we’ve got. The kids who have come up from junior look fairly decent and it looks like we have a fairly good group of juniors that are playing. We’ll see where it takes us.”
Replacing Marshall McCray at quarterback is graduated junior QB Ben Tsanoff.
“He looks the part. He throws the ball well, he is a big, physical kid and he was in the weight room quite a bit,” Bisci said. “I think he is excited to play in a little bit more advanced scheme this year, learn a little bit more and perfect his trade.”
The season will be a work in progress.
“You hope that the learning curve is quick. The talent is there for us to be decent and competitive but I think it will take time for kids to understand our concepts and our schemes and stuff,” he said. “If they can figure it out quickly, I think we will be fine.”
Huggins isn’t predicting a championship for the team just yet.
“It could definitely go either way. We have a lot of new players and our offence has a lot of new players. We have a lot of new linemen but as long as everyone can step up 11s and 12s alike, I think we will be able to make it pretty far.”
The 12B student knows what the team requires to be successful.
“We are going to need a lot of commitment because it is all about commitment. If they don’t want it, we are not going to get it. If we are here working hard then we should be fine.”
Huggins will be a key player for the Irish this season.
“He is small when you look at him but he is one of those kids who does a lot for you,” Bisci said. “He played two or three different receiver positions last year, he played running back for us last year and he reluctantly goes in and plays defensive back when we are short. He is a jack of all trades and he is real good at playing receiver. It is exciting to have him back.”
The 5-foot-7 155 pounder has been playing football since 2018 and started out as a safety.
“The following year one of my summer league coaches, I don’t know what he saw in me, but he put me at running back and it turned into me being more of an offensive player,” the 18-year-old said.
As a third-year senior, he knows his role on the team.
“You are expected to be way more mature than any 11 or 12 because you have been through Bisci’s program so much. He expects no fooling around and you have to be all business.”
The squad hopes to be on the school’s new artificial turf field to practise by Tuesday. The Irish will play a pre-season game on the field at 7 p.m. on Sept. 17 against Laurel Heights from Waterloo.
“The only other game that we know is we have the 75th homecoming reunion Saturday, Sept. 30 at four o’clock against Saint Paul,” Bisci said.
Huggins can’t wait to play on the new field.
“It is really exciting and it is one of the reasons why I wanted to stay back as well because we finally have a turf field. I am hoping we will get a few wins on it and the locker room is going to be a lot cleaner.”