Varsity Spears gear up for 2023
The Niagara Spears varsity football team is hard at work readying for the 2023 Ontario Summer Football League season.
Indoor workouts started on Jan. 25 at Young’s Sportsplex in Welland and will continue on until the team heads outside in early April.
“Turnout has been awesome and we have had 14 coaches out which is great because we have a coach for every position,” Spears head coach Brian Duguay said.
The coaching staff continues to grow for Niagara.
“We have a lot of returning coaches who used to play for Spears and then played in university,” he said.
Among them are Mount Alison’s Mike Domanico (Denis Morris), McMaster’s Jon Grant (Denis Morris), Mount Alison’s Nathan Zavarella (Beamsville).
In terms of players, the team has been averaging 65 players out at every practice and right now there are almost 80 players on the roster.
“It is a huge turnout this year,” Duguay said. “I believe it is because football is starting to come around in high school and the kids want to continue on with the progression. I watched a lot of the (high school) games and it was a really good year. And I think the kids just have the bug again.”
He is excited about the potential of this season’s varsity squad.
“We have a lot of returning players in key spots, including three quarterbacks returning from last year.”
Back are Saint Francis’ Jackson Stewart, Grimsby’s Xavier Zatylny and Saint Paul’s Matthew Murray. Marshall McCray is the only one of four quarterbacks from last season who is lost to graduation.
“Any one of them could jump in and be 1A right away,” Duguay said, adding it was an excellent move to carry four quarterbacks on the roster last season. “They get to know the system, they get to see all the games and they understand that the game gets faster as you progress. Once you get used to it, things slow down as a quarterback.”
Niagara is strong all over the field on offence. Among the players mentioned by Duguay: are running backs Eli Prosper (Eden), Jayden Gurzi-MacDonald (Blessed Trinity), Elijah Pappin (Saint Paul) and Justin Savoia (Churchill); and Churchill receivers Quinn Johnston and Brady Pupek.
Key to the offence’s fortune will be the team’s offensive line. The average size is about 6-foot-2 and 250-260 pounds.
Niagara fielded a young team last season and that added year of experience should pay off in the summer of 2023.
“You can already see it on offence and defence. What they were able to accomplish last year, they have taken into this year,” Duguay said. “Training camp last year was a whole different breed compared to this year. Guys have come in knowing what to expect and they have jumped in right away.”
Niagara is allowed to dress 10 players with 2004 birthdates and there are presently 15 2004 players on the roster.
“We have a lot of very tough decisions on the 2004s and it is going to come down right to the end,” he said. “We can keep all 15 on the roster but we can only dress 10.”
Niagara will need to be at its best in a tough conference.
“And it just got worse,” Duguay said, with a laugh. “They just changed it again and our conference got harder because they just added Burlington.”
In the conference are Essex, London, Cambridge, Niagara, Burlington and Hamilton.
“All the top teams from last year are all in the same conference but we want to be in the best conference.”
Niagara opens its season May 20 at home against Durham.