Thunder ready to make some noise
The Blessed Trinity football program will come out of the one-year pandemic absence with a varsity football program only.
Like a number of public and Catholic schools in Niagara, the Grimsby school is shelving its junior program to focus on a combined team of junior and senior players.
“This year, we thought it was prudent with the uncertainty of COVID that we would run one team,” head coach Brad Hubbard said.
Hubbard has served as head coach at the senior and junior level in the past and he will be ably assisted by Sean Jones, Mark Antonelli, Dave Maniaci, Grant Owen, Jim Yip and Gytis Bieksa.
“We are thrilled with the amount of guys we have had out,” he said. “We had 70 the first day and we were very happy with that and there’s a lot of enthusiasm among the guys who have decided to come back and play.”
Hubbard and his staff are planning to go with a roster of 50 players.
“We see lot of enthusiasm with the Grade 9s and 10s and we don’t want to disrupt their enthusiasm for football at such a young age,” he said. “Hopefully, we are going to give 50 guys the opportunity to enjoy themselves and win some games.”
Having 50 players out at practice is an obvious luxury.
“They are a very nice, eager group and some years you don’t have enough players and it makes it really difficult to put a competitive team on the field and to sustain some intensity during practices,” Hubbard said. “That is definitely not the case this year, in fact it is the complete opposite. We have had excellent attendance, a lot of enthusiasm and competition is high because attendance is high. It makes it quite enjoyable for the guys on the field and the coaches.”
The situation has resulted in plenty of internal competition for playing time and defined roles on the squad.
“No one is going to be complacent thinking that they have a position already locked up and they are not going to put in their best effort,” Hubbard said. “We are getting phenomenal effort out of every kid every day because they know that every position is up for grabs.”
One emphasis at practice has been on effort.
“That is probably going to be the best indicator of who is going to play and how often. So far, they are making our decisions quite difficult because everyone’s effort had been fantastic.”
Another focus has nothing to do with Xs and Os.
“There has been an emphasis on getting the kids to enjoy getting back on the field and exercising,” Hubbard said. “The overall enthusiasm has been great and they have been more willing to do any of the typical agility drills that we would put them through.”
The Thunder started practising the first week of school and this past Tuesday was only the second day the team was practising in equipment.
“Because we had so many guys out, in order to make a thorough analysis we needed to give every kid an opportunist to show what they had,” he said. “We didn’t want to put equipment in until yesterday so with the people we had to let go we could justify that we gave them enough opportunity to show what they had in our drills.”
The roster is evenly divided between senior- and junior-aged players and a number of juniors are going to get to the chance to play important roles.
“We told the guys right off the bat that if they were physically capable, eager and had some experience, we were going to give them every opportunity to play,” Hubbard said.
One Grade 10 player who has caught the attention of the coaching staff is running back Jayden MacDonald.
“The kid has a lot of maturity and because of that he is confident in his football talent. That makes him successful when we run the drills and it also makes him safe,” he said. “We noticed that from the first day and today (Tuesday) it only reinforced what we initially thought. Now that we have the equipment on, he has a lot of contact courage and I think he is going to do well.”
The 5-foot-10, 155-pound running back last played football in 2019 when he suited up as a running back and slotback for the Niagara Spears. The 15-year-old Grimsby resident did a Spears training camp during the summer to stay in shape.
“It is a very good feeling to be back out here with all the guys and to make new friends, meet new coaches and get to play football again,” MacDonald said. “I missed football a lot. To get through it, I worked out and prepared myself for the next season coming.”
He is excited to play senior football.
“I feel pretty confident and ready for this. I am ready to play ball.”
MacDonald loves the vibe at training camp.
“All of us out here have an excellent attitude and work ethic. It will all be good as long as everyone is working hard and trying to get better every day. If that happens, everything will go according to plan.”