Senior Mustangs aim high
Riley Hart runs the ball at a Saint Michael’s Mustangs senior football practice last week. Photos by BERNIE PUCHALSKI.
The Saint Michael’s Mustangs senior football team is eyeing a long ride deep into the Niagara Catholic Athletic Association playoffs.
“I am looking forward to this season because we are finally that team,” 12B player Riley Hart said. “We have a lot of returning 12Bs and a lot of those 12Bs were starters last year.
“We have a ton of talent coming back and we have so much talent on the team, that we almost don’t know what to do with it.”
St. Michael co-coach Keith Bomberry also likes where the Saint Michael football program is in 2018.
“We’re on the rise and I think we are trending upwards now,” he said. “We are getting better numbers, guys are committed and we have a number of 12Bs that came back.”
Those returning 12Bs are focused.
“They want to play football, they want to compete at this level; not only against their teammates here at St. Mike’s, but with their friends and foes across the Niagara region and in the city,” Bomberry said.
Saint Michael’s boasts talent throughout its roster.
“We have good group of 12s and right now are 11s are really showing up,” he said. We have five or six Grade 11s that are contributing right off the bat.”
All of the above has the Mustangs feeling much more optimistic than this time next year.
“The big difference is we have coached these guys now for four or five years and they know our expectations,” Bomberry said. “They are feeling confident and that is what has really changed.
“They came in on the first week off off-season (training) and said they couldn’t wait to play. Some of other teams are just as good as us, some have got a little bit weaker and we feel we have gotten better.”
That improvement has come from some solid off-season work.
“A number of them have got into a weight lifting program and a number of them have played Spears and have had very successful years with that program,” Bomberry said.
“We take that confidence, we take the skills the guys have brought us the last four or five years and we want to put it all together.”
One player who has used his Spears season to take his game to the next level is Hart.
“Riley has gotten better every year and he’s really taking football seriously,” Bomberry said. “He wants to progress his academics to the next level as well as playing at the next level.”
Hart is football’s version of the Swiss Army Knife.
“He is game to play anything,” he said. “He stepped in at wide receiver, he stepped into defensive back, he stepped into punt returner and running back, but right now we don’t know where he is playing.
“Anywhere we put him on the field, he can contribute and he was our big play guy last year.”
The six foot 170-pounder is entering his third year of senior ball and is looking to build on last season.
“It was my breakout season,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I was the star, but I got the most touchdowns on the team. It opened my eyes.”
It also made him want to take football to the next level.
“2018 is the first year I have been taking football seriously,” he said. “I did the Fox 40 Prospect Challenge and all that stuff. I had the fastest 40 — I ran a 4.5 — and I ran a fast shuttle too.”
This summer, he played his first season of Niagara Spears football.
“I was begging the coach to put me on,” Hart said. “I was playing specials (special teams) in practice and I was begging and begging in practice.”
During one of the Spears’ games, a kick returner fumbled a ball and Hart resumed his begging.
“He put me in the next play and I scored the touchdown that won the game for us,” he said. “Ever since then, I was starter on special teams and I got a few more touchdowns out of that too.”
His play garnered him some scholarship interest from a number of schools, including Queen’s, Western, the University of Toronto and St. Francis Xavier.