Kali McCready knew she’d found her happy place when, after pulling an oncoming ball carrier down to the grass, his teammate taunted, “you just got wrecked by a girl.”
Already a swimmer, wrestler and rugby player, McCready wanted a new challenge for her final year at Terry Fox Secondary. So she joined the football team.
The wide receiver and special teams defender is one of two girls on this year’s varsity side. Robin Rothwell, another senior, also runs pass patterns and is on the punt return team.
New to the sport as well, Rothwell said the learning curve has been steep, pouring over the team’s playbook again and again until offensive and defensive tactics are burned into her memory.
Both girls say stepping onto the gridiron was “a little intimidating” at first, but dogged determination and perseverance have helped them earn their place.
“There’s times I wanted to quit, but I learned to stick with it,” said McCready, who’s hoping those traits will serve her well when she pursues a career in firefighting.
Ravens’ coach Tom Kudaba, a former co-coach who’s taken full control of the team since the retirement last spring of his sidekick, Martin McDonnell, said McCready and Rothwell are “solid athletes” with capabilities to contribute.
“By no means are these young women not tough enough” to handle the rough and tumble demands of of football, he added.
Rothwell, who played volleyball and basketball in middle school, said being the only girls on the team comes with some added pressure.
McCready added the best way to overcome that is to show they belong, something she thinks she achieved when she registered her first tackle covering a kick return late in the Ravens first pre-season game, a 43-0 win over Earl Marriott on Sept. 10.
“It was all or nothing,” she said of the moment the ball carrier headed directly for her. “I felt like I was getting a chance to prove myself.”
Rothwell admitted she’s yet to have such a moment. Meanwhile, she’s putting in the work at practice, studying the playbook and watching football on TV with her dad. She said the experience has opened her up to taking more chances, like joining a band.
And with each rep, each touch of the ball, the nerves she felt in her first game that caused her to fall over on her first play, subside a bit more.
“As long as you’re trying your best,” she said.
Kudaba said that while the Ravens are still shaking the rust that settles from a season on the sidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “It will not take too long to adjust to competing and getting physically ready to get in shape.”
Kudaba said the team will be looking to Grade 11 quarterback Owen Sieben to provide leadership. He’s supported by a capable corps that includes Alex Gagnon, a Grade 12 running back and linebacker, as well as Isaiah Cooper, Matthieu Gale, Juan Valle, Max Hanson and Gavin Whittingham.
Kudaba said he’s particularly encouraged that even after a year without football, Fox has about 70 players committed to its junior and senior programs.
“We feel good about that,” he said.
CENTENNIAL BUILDING CHARACTER
A tough pre-season schedule could reap benefits as the Centennial Centaurs head into a second regular season under the guidance of Dino Geremia.
All three of the Centaurs’ exhibition games were against teams expected to finish amongst the top five in the province. Geremia said that’s given his charges a yardstick against which to measure their own performances and expectations.
While Centennial failed to reach the end zone in losses to Notre Dame and Vancouver College, and was outscored 19-13 in a controlled scrimmage against Mt. Douglas, Geremia said, “We have learned plenty from the experience and I believe we have built character on the way.”
Leadership is expected to come from Grade 12 running back/linebacker Diego Suarez who Geremia said “has really taken ownership of the team.”
Defensively, the Centaurs will look to senior Cam Keeskotagan who will use his 6’2”, 240 lbs to anchor the line.
Quarterback Malcolm Cameron is being handed the ball as a starter for the first time and Geremia said he’s confident the junior will grow into the role as the season progresses. Among his primary targets will be Grade 12 receiver Keyshawn Beswick and running back Ziad Sabry, who’s already shown his speed and strength in the team’s early tilts.
Most importantly, Geremia said, is seeing the team back on the field playing competitive games after more than a year of workouts in the gym, socially-distanced practices and team-building exercises because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And that already feels like the biggest win of all.
“It was obviously challenging as restrictions were always in play,” Geremia said. “We have realized some of the work in the off season does translate to our on-field play.”
• The Centaurs kick off the regular season against Abbotsford Panthers on Friday, 3:30 p.m. at the Centennial Oval. Terry Fox visits Lord Tweedsmuir at 4 p.m.