Centaurs see light at end of losing tunnel

When your football team’s greatest success of the past few years has been to get a call-back for a part in a Netflix movie production, you know you’ve got some work ahead of you.

The new coach of the Centennial Centaurs, Dino Geremia, has been laying the foundation to rebuild the school’s once proud gridiron program since he was appointed to the role early last spring.

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Athletic director Colin Cameron tasked Geremia with bringing renewed vitality to a team that won the Subway Bowl championship in 2009 led by quarterback Lemar Durrant — now a star receiver in the Canadian Football League — but didn’t win a single game the past two seasons and was outscored 351-58 last year.

That’s exactly what’s happening, said Felipe Ruiz, a senior receiver and linebacker who has been a part of Centennial football since he was in Grade 8.

“It’s a whole new energy,” Ruiz said between drills during a pre-season practice.

Dario Mazzuca, a wide receiver entering his third season, said, “Everyone has a better vibe.”

Geremia, who came to Centennial after 14 years working with young players at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, as well as Notre Dame regional secondary school in Vancouver, said the work to improve that vibe started as soon as he took the job. He called upon his extensive network of football contacts to assemble a corps of top assistants that includes former BC Lions QB Julio Caravetta, UBC’s Jim Stockman, who previously coached at Burnaby Central secondary, former UBC Thunderbird Chris Schaalo, who brings with him specialized knowledge in fitness and conditioning from his work in crossfit, as well as Cameron and Centennial teacher Brandon Tuason.

Geremia has also called upon other coaches at the university and professional level, as well as Durant, to give talks to the team. He said giving his players a sense that the game extends beyond the walls of the school and the field across the street is important to their buy-in.

“At the end of the day, they know they’ve got people in their corner,” he said.

Fourth-year defensive lineman Anthony Bassetto said the network of football mentors has helped give the players a sense of renewed purpose.

“You feel like you have a better reason to be here,” he said.

Geremia said he’s a believer in cultivating trust amongst the players for the process of team building; if every player commits to the program, they’ll be rewarded by a successful program that in turn will bring individual success.

“They have to commit every day,” he said. “No excuses.”

That’s just the kind of boost a player like Bassetto, who has yet to know what it’s like to win with a varsity team, likes to hear.

“I’m trying to push myself harder,” he said. “I want to do more than what the coaches want in a drill.”

A positive, can-do attitude amongst the players, as well as a lineup that lost only three players to graduation in June, gives Geremia reason to believe the end to the Centaurs’ drought is nigh, and the team can be competitive with established programs like New Westminster Hyacks, Burnaby's St. Thomas More Knights and their crosstown rivals, Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Ravens.

“Our expectations have to be high,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to surprise some people.”

• Centennial opens its season Friday at 3:30 p.m. with a home game at the school field against Ballenas, from Parksville.

Wednesday, we preview the Terry Rox Ravens.

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