Michael Bohan, shown above running the ball, was unlike most other players who join the football Mounties in that he had an almost immediate impact for the team.
A lot of questions are expected to be answered this weekend as the dust is shaken out after a long and tough winter and the 60 returning players are put through a rigorous four-day spring training camp at the Rocky Stone Field in Moncton.
Yep, it is that time again when Kelly Jeffrey gets an opportunity to assess how well his stable of athletes have progressed since they completed their most successful campaign in more than 15 years with a berth in the Uteck Bowl – the semi-final matchup for the Canadian university football championship.
What he and his staff are really looking to learn is how much the support group has improved. Under normal circumstances it will take a young man a year or two on the practice squad to reach a point where he is prepared to step up and fill the spot vacated by a graduating member.
There are, obviously, those who arrive fresh from a high school career and immediately make an impact on the Mounties – stars like Bradley Daye, Gary Ross, Kelly Hughes, Mikele Joseph, Jordan Botel, and last year’s rookie of the year Devante Sampson. But it is a huge jump from high school competition and although he made the successful transition, Sackville’s own Michael Bohan can testify to that even though he didn’t take long to earn a niche as a remarkable punt returner and defensive half. Of course, he had been the most outstanding player in the provincial high school system, seldom, if ever, leaving the field.
But there are more players who work their way into the starting lineup after doing the “grunt” work in the weight room and riding the bench. One can think of receiver Matt Rose, who has been a leader, or Josh Blanchard, who erupted in the fourth year to play a hero’s role, especially in the conference championship Loney Bowl, or Christian Plante who established himself who established himself as a solid blue-collar performer in his third season.
Conditioning coach Gaetan Richard sets out a program that the players are expected to follow not only during the off season in Sackville but also throughout the spring and summer months leading up to the pre-season camp in August. Any player who arrives in anything less than playing condition is wasting their time and money as coaches no longer have the luxury of time to work with them to put them in shape but must from day one teach systems, schemes and prepare them for game day situations.
It isn’t that many years ago that coaches did have time to teach individual players the proper techniques in order to perform better at their positions. While they still must be alert to ensure each athlete is doing their tasks properly the emphasis must be on the bigger picture. Fans may tend to think of how things were in “the good old days” but all that has changed. No longer do the Mounties have to start 200 pounders in the line as the standard has now risen by at least one hundred pounds, as it is recalled how they tried to compete with teams like St. Mary’s in past years by giving away tons of weight. While little men still star in this game, it has been taken over by those who have bulked up and devote much of their lives to preparing for the eight to a dozen games that will take place between September and November.
Jeffrey doubts whether there will be any raw recruits at camp this weekend. These people must be registered in order to be covered by insurance and due to a number of factors all of the paperwork may not have been completed. So he along with his assistants will be particularly concerned with finding athletes to provide depth at the various positions. The entire defensive unit will be returning as well as much of the offense. However, a few backups will be leaving and it is here weaknesses could arise.
It is unusual to see the entire dozen defensive players return en-masse as will be the case this time around. Offensively, the big losses will be Botel, Nick Lauder, Alex Healy and Stu Moore, so while fans may dream of the arrival of some saviours from afield, it is most likely one or two finds will be uncovered during the next few days.
Jeffrey says the four day camp will allow the staff to concentrate on fundamentals rather than trying to introduce new schemes and the last year starters will not receive many sets with second and third year players receiving the bulk of the attention.
During the past six months the team has been holding regular workouts – twice a week in the gym and heavier sessions on Saturdays, while the players head for regular dates in the weight room. Those interested in observing the workouts in Moncton will be welcome and Jeffrey has announced that sessions will be held from 1-3:30 on Friday, 7-9:30 p.m. on Saturday, 1-3:30 p.m. on Sunday and the main scrimmage on Monday beginning at noon.