While Scott Fawcett has left the small-town atmosphere of high school football here for the big-city life at the pro level in Edmonton, what hasn't change is his success on the football field.
After helping lead the Muskies to the NorWOSSA title last season as the team's offensive co-ordinator, Fawcett may have a shot at winning the Grey Cup this year as special teams coach with the Eskimos, who clinched first place in the West division with a 43-7 win Sunday afternoon against the B.C. Lions.
Edmonton, now 11-6, will host the Western final Nov. 9.
It's been a successful first season for the 40-year-old former manager at CFOB here, who has had previous coaching stints with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Eastern Washington and Calgary Dinosaurs before plying his trade at the high school level with the Muskies and Kenora Broncos.
All told, Fawcett has captured eight championships in the last 15 years—and it's a trend he hopes to continue in Edmonton, which will be host city for this year's Grey Cup. But he stressed there's no extra pressure on the Eskimos to play in front of the home crowd for the “Big Game.”
“You try to avoid that [Grey Cup talk]," he said last week. ”We don't think about where we'll play, whether it's in the parking lot or in Cornerbrook, Nfld.
“But I know the guys don't want another team in their dressing room [for the Grey Cup].”
As all teams will confess, the road to a championship game often rides on its ability to perform on special teams—a facet that helps determine field position in key situations of a game.
And the Eskimos have made great strides in that department this season with Sean Fleming, who's handling both the place-kicking and punting duties, and a new long snapper in Mark Farraway.
“Because Sean hadn't punted for such a long time [he last punted for Wyoming eight years ago], he struggled in the beginning," Fawcett noted. ”But we had him working on drills and, in the last six games, he has averaged [46.1] yards a punt.
“But the big thing is last year [Edmonton] had four punts returned to the line of scrimmage, which is like having a punt blocked, and this year we have none,” he added.
Part of that reason, Fawcett said, is the fact Fleming has regularly had good hang time on his punts while Farraway, a rookie out of St. Francis Xavier, has done a great job with the snaps.
“The snapper and punter are most critical,” he stressed.
In fact, except for starting quarterback Danny McManus, Fawcett said the rest of the 35 players all have a hand in special teams duty, noting the key part of his job is to ensure the unit gels on the field.
“The most important thing is to get to know what your players are good at and [best] utilize your personnel collectively as a group,” he explained.
“We've had a lot of new players in key positions and transition has been a big part [of our success],” he added.
What the Eskimos have been most successful at this season has been their ability to return punts, led by the explosive talents of Henry “Gizmo” Williams (with 10,155 yards and 25 touchdowns on punt returns during his illustrious career) and Don Blair, a former college standout from the University of Calgary.
“We were leading the league [in punt returns] just two weeks ago, then we had some bad weather conditions and we didn't do too well,” Fawcett admitted.
"Basically we don't have to worry what [the return guys] do. We just have to make sure we jam people at the line, hold their guys up at the line of scrimmage, and give [Williams] a little crease.
“Let's face it, 'Giz is Giz,'” Fawcett said.
While his job often entails 12-hour plus workdays, which often begin by 6 a.m., Fawcett confessed he has no complaints simply because it means he's doing what loves to do—coaching football.
“The hours are no different than 12 years ago when I was coaching in Winnipeg but it's not really a job when you're coaching football,” he said.
“You're having fun. You're not watching the clock.”