Scott O’Neal speaks to participants at the 2014 spring training camp, which was held at Tantramar Regional High School earlier this year.
With barely a month remaining before the opening of the Titan pre-season football camp head coach Scott O’Neal is “straining at the bit” to welcome 40 young men from throughout the Tantramar region to a season he describes as a test of his theories.
Three years ago the local bantam program was scrapped with all players reporting to the high school squad. As a result, they have fielded a much younger team than those against which they have been competing. He felt an extra year on the varsity team would better prepare them for stepping up to the next level in their second, third and fourth years.
“We will see how this has worked out during the coming season,” he said recently. “But I can tell you we will have reached our peak the following year and no team will push us around.”
O’Neal, with desperation, remembers the 2009 campaign when the Titans were blistered, losing to MacNaughton in one game 84-0. He says it was after that he decided some drastic measures were required and thus the move to dressing a host of Grade 9 athletes. This year that first group of rookies should be ready to take command.
On top of this he says he and his coaching staff learned a tremendous amount about how to properly prepare a football team during the special clinic put on by the Mountie staff headed by Kelly Jeffrey, Scott Brady and Gaetan Richard.
“This clinic was more for our coaches as well as those in the minor system,” he says, “although the 60 players who enrolled got a lot out of it.”
Prior to the Mountie clinic the spring operation had featured professional players from the CFL. O’Neal said the presence of the famous athletes attracted a lot of kids, many who never continued with the game but simply showed up at the clinic due to the famous names.
“Following completion of this year’s clinic all our coaches – high school and minor – got together and decided this was the proper route to follow. Coaches and players just learned so much from the professional coaches that all our programs – from mosquito to high school – will be improved.”
O’Neal has been there and done that. Four years as a multi-purpose player with the Titans from 1985 to ’88, helping to bring the provincial championship to tiny Tantramar with a hard-earned victory over the all-powerful Fredericton Black Kats in Fredericton. During that time he provided much of the blocking for tailback Bruce Harper who established a new record book for the NB High School Football League.
The powerful 43-year-old football mentor spent the five years with the Mount Allison Mounties playing both linebacker and fullback. It was during that period he even improved on his blocking game as he usually led the great Grant Keany, making workable holes in the defensive line. In 1991 he was a key figure in the Mounties march to the Vanier Cup final at the SkyDome in Toronto.
Among the corps of young players on the Titans this year will be the coach’s son, Aiden. It has been suggested that if he’s half as tough as his dad he will contribute immensely to a winning campaign. The senior O’Neal has been described as the epitomy of “smash Mouth” football.
Getting back to the improvements, as a result of the earlier clinic, O’Neal says it is still paying dividends as he can drop in on coach Richard of the Mounties whenever he is facing a problem with his offensive line and likewise with the other Mountie coaches when advice is needed.
‘I realize what a wonderful resource we have here,” he says. “We have now taken the first step to working together, all the way from the grassroots to the Mounties – we are now on the same page.”
The coach says he encourages his players to commit to off-season training, especially in the weight room. He feels more high school players may be taking the opportunity to visit the Mounties facilities and picking up some pointers.
And the Titans will have a solid core of coaches this year, adding Joe Lafford to an already exalted group – one that O’Neal believes is as good as any in the league. Veteran David Burns, highly experienced Peter Estabrooks and all around athlete Ben Bown will handle the defense. On the other side of the ball will be Charles Lafford, Joe Lafford and David Hicks with Tim Cornier serving as the liaison officer.
O’Neal has issued an invitation to all who might be interested to come out for the camp. He says occasionally a gem turns up unexpectedly and everybody who shows up will be give an opportunity to wear the uniform.