The Terry Fox Ravens' veteran coach is well aware of the cyclical nature of high school football: Teams build up, over several years, to a crescendo of experienced talent, then have to start all over again as seniors graduate.
Martin McDonnell says this is looking like one of those building years for the Ravens.
After two appearances in the last three Subway Bowl AAA championship games, including a provincial title in 2016, the Ravens’ stockpile of surefire seniors has been depleted, and McDonnell is charged with the task of building up a team that’s heavy on juniors.
He’s hedging his bets on how that will go.
“You get what you get,” he said during a break at a recent practice behind the Port Coquitlam school.
Gone from the Ravens are stalwarts like towering 6’8” outside linebacker Matthew Hewe-Baddege, linebackers Liam Cumaramsamy and Cade Cote, and safety Chaz Marshall.
The absence of their experience, combined with the usual challenge of getting players to come out, is going to make it tough for Fox to live up to its honourable mention ranking in the pre-season poll of British Columbia’s high school football teams, let alone exceed it, McDonnell said.
Not that he and the team aren’t going to try.
After all, the Ravens have a reputation for success to uphold. And while McDonnell said that paints a target on their backs, it’s also a motivator for the young players pulling on their red, black and white jerseys.
“If we can keep this group together, we’ll be good,” McDonnell said.
Another motivator will be the apparent renaissance of crosstown rival Centennial Centaurs, who’ve been infused with renewed vigour by new head coach Dino Geremia.
McDonnell said having a nearby opponent that’s no longer a soft touch, as the Centaurs have been in recent seasons, means a lot to his kids and the battle for football bragging rights in the Tri-Cities, if the provincials are out of reach.
“It’s better when you have a nail-biter rivalry,” McDonnell said. “In order for our kids to do well, they need to look forward to the competition.”
The Ravens’ resilience will be tested early, as they’ll open their season Saturday against fifth-ranked South Delta. In fact, three of the team’s first four games will be against opponents ranked or mentioned in the pre-season poll.
McDonnell said his approach will be to give his players a good experience that they’ll enjoy and learn from, regardless of the results.
“It’s not a race for everyone,” he said. “It’s a process.”