Varsity Spears decisions coming down to wire
It’s getting close to go time for the Niagara Spears varsity football team and there are still a lot of balls up in the air.
The Ontario Summer Football League squad will have a crossover practice with Hamilton Sunday followed by a week off and then it will open the season at home May 20 against Ajax.
“It is a benefit to start at home because you don’t have to get the kinks out from travelling and get everyone used to everything,” Spears head coach Brian Duguay said. “When you start at home, you can get all the pre-game stuff done there.”
Before the whistle blows to signal the opening of the season, there are still plenty of decisions to be made in camp. At the top of that list is who will be the starting quarterback? A three-way battle between Saint Francis’ Jackson Stewart, Grimsby’s Xavier Zatylny and Saint Paul’s Matthew Murray is ongoing.
“You think one day you’ve got it and then the next day one of the other ones comes back so it has been hard,” Duguay said. “They’ve all been showing a lot.”
He describes the quarterback dilemma as both a good and bad thing.
“You are cutting the reps up to all of them.”
Whoever wins the position will have a plethora of great receivers to throw to, including newest Spears Quinn Johnston and Brady Pupek (Sir Winston Churchill) and returnee Lucas Johnson (Saint Francis).
Another roster battle still ongoing is which players with 2004 birthdates will make the team. League rules allow only 10 such players and there are still 12 players left in camp.
“It’s hard,” Duguay said.
He is excited for what the team can do this summer and believes it can compete for a championship in an ultra-competitive league.
“The defence is really good and we have a lot of real good players over there.”
Unfortunately the injury bug has taken a chunk out of the defence with both Torrey Sowden (Greater Fort Erie) and Wyatt Brown (Notre Dame) suffering wrist injuries while playing lacrosse.
“All our injuries have happened outside of football and we have only had one ankle sprain here at practice.”
Despite the injuries, the defence still looks good.
“We have a very strong defensive line and our linebacker and defensive backs are really well-rounded. It has been nice to watch the more and more we practise. The development has been excellent.”
Duguay describes the team’s offence as explosive.
“We have good running backs, good h-backs, our offensive line is big and our wide receivers are talented.”
With all that talent, the Spears still need to play together to succeed.
“I keep saying every year that we need to be a family. We cannot play as individuals because to succeed in football you need to play as one,” Duguay said.
He feels that hasn’t always been the case in the last few seasons.
“There have been some of them who just wanted to play for themselves and see where they got after that. This group is really different and you have guys who are yelling it out at every practice.”
Stepping into a big leadership role for the Spears this season is Justin Savoie, a Grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill.
“He’s our h-back, our running back and our multi-faceted guy. He is a good player,” Duguay said. “He has got heart, he has good attitude and he has the right intangibles for a football player.”
He is not sure if halfback is the right position for Savoie because the player is also an excellent linebacker.
“We are trying to figure out what is best for him to get him to the next level.”
The 17-year-old is looking forward to the upcoming season.
“I think we are a lot better than last year. We have a lot of athletes who came out this year and we are glad they are out,” he said. “I’m excited to see what the defence can do because I haven’t been paying attention to them. I know the offence is ready and we have a lot planned for the year. There are a lot of new plays and different plays have been installed this year.”
Those plays have been implemented because of the team’s dynamic personnel.
“We have some explosive weapons. We have guys who can jump, who are quick, who can juke, some good running backs with vision and our blocking schemes are very strong,” Savoie said.
He is ready to be a leader on the team.
“Last year I was kind of the younger guy so I was sitting at the back. I have been a leader for every team and this year is my time to step up. I am always comfortable in that role.”
Savoie has noticed a different vibe around the team.
“Last year, we really didn’t show up to practice, we really weren’t watching film and we weren’t consistent. This year we have already been showing a lot of consistency by coming to practice and several players are showing up for film. We are already way more consistent with the playbook than where we were last year.”
He credits an expected source for that sea change.
“I think the coaches have stepped up a lot. They are very honest.”