Westlane and Stamford united
Thursday marked the fourth day of the Westlane/Stamford senior football training camp. Photos by BERNIE PUCHALSKI.
Things are shaping up nicely as Westlane and Stamford enter their second year of combining to form junior and senior football squads.
“It’s a lot more smoother with the transition and all that, but getting them down here and getting them together is a bit of a work in progress,” head coach Jason Babony said. “And there’s also leaving practice early. I wouldn’t say it’s a hindrance, but it could be down the road.”
A bus brings Stamford players to and from practice and Babony is hoping the timing can improve as things move along. That is a small bump in the road compared to what was going on at the start of last season.
“Some of the kids from Stamford didn’t want to put the (Westlane) uniform on and vice versa obviously, but these guys have meshed really well,” Babony said. “And the word has gotten out so we have healthy numbers at senior and junior now.
“I think we can give the league a competitive look now.”
Stamford 12B student Chase Bowden agrees there was a little hesitation last season among Stamford students.
“Last year, there was a lot of tension because it was who are these guys standing there?” he said. “We used to be a rivalry, but they were very welcoming and halfway through the season we came together.
“We are going to continue to grow.”
There have been about 40 athletes attending senior practices at Westlane this week and a further 35 players attending the junior training camp.
Having a junior program is crucial to being successful at the senior level.
“It is always about repetition and we have always preached that,” Babony said. “Whether the kids are winning or losing at junior, they are getting reps and they know what to expect when they get to senior.”
Junior football also separates the football players and the wannabes.
“It weeds the kids out who are only playing for the shoulder pads,” he said. “Once they get to senior, the Grade 11 who show up are true football players.”
Thursday marked the fourth day of training camp for the Spartans.
“We are super rusty, but the effort is there,” Babony said. “I’ve installed maybe four or six plays and we are throwing the ball really well and running the ball well.”
Last season, Westlane/Stamford fell 19-14 to Greater Fort Erie in the semifinals and Babony is hoping for another good season.
“We will be competitive, but I don’t want to jinx us,” he said.
Bowden has high hopes for the season.
“I honestly feel like we can win it this year because we have an awesome group of guys,” the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder said. “I see more dedication and these guys really want to work hard.”
That dedication is what Bowden feels is most important.
“You don’t need talent and you don’t need skill, but you need guys who want it bad enough.”
Bowden will play an important role in the team’s success. He suits up at running back and inside linebacker for the Spartans.
“He was a very good player for the Spears and he was a good player for us,” Babony said. “You ask him to run through a wall and he will do it.”
He feels Bowden will continue to evolve as a football player this season.
“I just want him to be an excellent leader and pass it on to our younger guys so that they know what to expect in the coming years and so I don’t have to coach it year in and year out.”
The 18-year-old Bowden has played Spears since Grade 8 and has been a running back since Grade 9. High school football is an important part of his gridiron experience.
“I was expecting last year to be my last year and I was very emotional,” he said. “We had a really good run with a lot of great guys and I was ecstatic when I realized that I was coming back.”
He returned for a couple of reasons.
“I wanted to get my grades up and I wanted to pursue my dream which is to go to university and continue to pursue football.”
Bowden wants to study human kinetics and obviously play football at the post secondary level. He has already had some interest.
“Obviously it was a bit of an ego booster, but I wasn’t as serious as I am now,” he said. “I hope they contact me this season or the coming Spears season and either way I am going to go.”
Bowden started to take his schooling and football a lot more seriously at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
“Everybody was applying to college and university and they were all moving on and I sat there and realized I had the potential to do it,” he said. “I needed to stop messing around because this is the rest of my life and I don’t want to be that person who is working at a lousy job for the rest of his life.”
His aspirations are much higher now.
“I want to work hard for my mom and I want people to look up to me,” he said. “In the future, I want to be that guy that people say ‘I went to high school with him.’
“I want to be someone and I want to do something with my life.”