Even though the Titans graduated a high number of stars last year, like Aidan O’Neal, shown above in action last season, head coach Scott O’Neal assures fans the team will be ready come the opening whistle on Sept. 9.
SACKVILLE, N.B. – After just the first couple of practices the Tantramar Titans are ready to enter serious competition.
That’s the word from the man who has guided the team to back-to-back New Brunswick High School Football League titles and has run up 19 consecutive victories during that time span.
Head coach Scott O’Neal said last week that his players reported to camp on Aug. 15 in outstanding condition due to a combination of factors.
First, they followed an off-season training regimen that saw them in the weight room on an almost daily basis and came in ready to play. This mirrors the program outlined by the Mounties – far different than years ago when young men arrived and then were forced to get into playing shape when they should have been gearing up with new sets of schemes and perfecting their timing.
Secondly, several of the athletes who will be representing the school this year spent part of the summer working out with and playing for the various New Brunswick provincial teams – U15, U16 and U18. Thus, they were not only forced to be fit but also received some fine coaching at that level.
While the Titans have literally run roughshod over the opposition during the past two years, this upcoming season could prove to be an entirely different proposition. The team sustained the loss of an inordinate number of players through graduation in June and the strong coaching staff is faced with a major task of rejigging and coming up with new systems due to these changes.
We only wish the season would start tomorrow.
The offensive line for the past two seasons has proven dominant, with such huge young men as Dylan Estabrooks, Isaac Humber and Zack Cormier – each well over 250 pounds. They simply wore opposing linemen down, making it a little easier for Aidan O’Neal to get up speed before hitting the secondary, where he enjoyed field days, with 29 touchdowns during the campaign.
It’s unusual for a school with such a limited enrolment to produce so many huge and talented performers – all three of the above are currently with teams in the Atlantic Universities Football Conference. So coach O’Neal and company have been “force feeding” a few and will showcase such linemen as Ryan Cadman and Riley Tower, who will be expected to carry on the tradition of wearing down opponents.
Last season saw a richness in the lineup, with 40 players dressed for game after game. But early turnouts this time have been limited to 35, and O’Neal does not expect few, if any, more to turn up after the completion of summer jobs.
But even that number is amazing when the total enrolment of Tantramar is in the vicinity of 400 – in other words, about 10 percent of the population is playing football and that includes the females, none of whom have tried out for more than a generation.
Fortunately, the Titans are able to draw young men from as far away as Cape Tormentine and Dorchester and players from those areas have continued to contribute to the team’s success year after year.
O’Neal remains optimistic as he shapes what he hopes will be a three-peat of the provincial championship. He says they are fortunate to have such veterans as Lucas Cormier, Jack Estabrooks, Jeff Lafford, and Zack Lloyd back in the lineup, ready and willing to provide the leadership required for a young squad. Each of these returnees is capable of playing multiple positions.
“That’s what makes these guys football players,” according to the coach.
With Peter Estabrooks, David Burns, Joe Lafford, Charles Lafford, Ben Brown and Cormier backing him up there is no doubt that O’Neal will send a dozen guys onto the field for the opening kickoff on Sept. 9, who will continue to play “smash mouth” football, win or lose.
With a bullseye squarely on their backs they will be targeted by opposing teams who have felt the wrath of the kids from the tiny school by the marsh for so long. Will they respond?
“You bet,” says coach O’Neal, who is being quickly recognized as one of the top coaches outside the university community in New Brunswick. “We still have plenty of ’studs’ who can get the job done. We only wish the season would start tomorrow.”