Local athletes excel at annual North American football championship


Published on February 2, 2017

Tantramar Regional High School head football coach Scott O’Neal speaks to participants in the 2015 Sackille minor football spring training camp.

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ORLANDO, FLORIDA – Those local fans who were fortunate enough catch the ESPN broadcast of the North American Under 19 football championship on Saturday from Orlando, Florida, had to be excited to hear the announcer say “the US punt is being returned very well by Aidan O’Neal of the Tantarmar Titans of Sackville, New Brunswick.”

Although the Canadian team lost the game by a 33-11 score, O’Neal was a standout on special teams as he returned two kicks and one punt for good yardage and coach Scott O’Neal, his father, admitted that Aidan turned in a strong performance.

The Canadian team was up against a unit that consisted of players who have already been recruited by top NCAA teams and it showed.

Coach O’Neal said the experience for both Aidan and Dylan Estabrooks who was with the U18 team was positive and will help them make the transition from high school to the Mounties. He indicated that the huge US team provided the type of competition they will face in the AUFC.

Estabrooks, meanwhile, was sending a message as he was the starting and regular right guard for the Canadian team. Coach O’Neal said that even against a huge defensive line Estabrooks stood out and provided solid support for his quarterback.

Definitely something nobody would have expected a few years ago – two Titans more than holding heir own against the best the US had to offer.

Even though the U18 team fell 26-0 they showed a lot of heart and it bodes well for the future of Canadian football.

If our opponents slow down our rushing game we will be prepared to go through the air. Titans head coach Scott O'Neal

It was interesting to hear some comments from the ESPN announcers, especially over their lack of knowledge of things Canadian. They asked coach Steve Sumarrah of the U19 team how big the game is in Canada and he said “not as big as hockey but definitely growing by leaps and bounds.”

Football in the US is huge. High school teams play in front of 15,000 or more each week and their professional coaches must produce or find other employment. University football is something else – not unusual to attract well in excess of 100,000 to games while the NFL is an entire culture in itself.

On the other hand, only a few teams such as Laval have truly emphasized the game and fill their stadium for each outing. In this region the Mounties have had upwards of 4,000 to some games while the championship Titans usually have fewer than 1,000 in attendance.

Thus it is obvious that the approach in Canada is far different than in the US and is evidence why the quality of high school graduates is superior, not just by numbers but by the professional approach taken by the coaches and school administrators. And perhaps we are the better for that – taking a more holistic approach to education.

While the two Titan grads obviously observed a learned a good deal, which should help them as they progress, coach O’Neal said the experience for him was “awesome” as he observed and learned from some of the nation’s top professionals.

“I really wanted to know more about the pass aspect of the game,” he said, “and so that is where I concentrated.”

And he believes his Titans will benefit from his increased knowledge. Known primarily as a ground game – last season they had Aiden who wreaked havoc on the opposition – but this time the coach hinted during a discussion that his squad will offer a more diverse attack.

“If our opponents slow down our rushing game we will be prepared to go through the air,” he said, adding that in Jeff Lafford and Justin Vogels the Titans have two fine young quarterbacks.

The team was housed in a beautiful resort about 15 miles from where they played – a location with as many as 15 fields.  They held two team meetings and one lengthy practice a day and so there wasn’t a whole lot of time for sight seeing.

It’s hoped The Write Call may feature thoughts from both Aiden O’Neal and Dylan Estabrooks about their week-long experiences during the next little while as they continue their tough off-season training regimen they hope will result in better opportunities to get the call on game days with the Mounties.