With several veterans lost from last year’s NorWOSSA championship team, Muskie football head coach Bob Swing is going to use Saturday’s exhibition tilt with the St. Paul’s Crusaders as a chance to let his young players gain some valuable experience.
And he admitted he’s not too concerned with the outcome.
“We have a lot of new kids this season so we want them to get used to our system and get fundamentally better,” said Swing, starting his third season at the helm of the black-and-gold.
“The only time I look at the scoreboard is in the fourth quarter. And if everything has gone according to plan, then we should be okay,” he noted. “If we’re ahead, we’ll just keep doing the things that we were doing, but if we’re behind, we might make some adjustments.”
Swing said his coaching staff is intact from last year, which means the team will use the same offensive system as a year ago when it was led by Terry LaBelle, the league’s leading rusher and scorer, and quarterback Jon Caul.
Caul was considered academically ineligible for this season, leaving the door open for Gary Wager, who was the starting pivot for the Muskie ‘B’ team last year while also handling some snaps with the senior squad.
Swing felt Wager will have little trouble adjusting to the black-and-gold’s offence on a full-time basis.
“We’ll run our basic offence, which you’ll see is a lot of what we used last year,” he offered, adding Wager will be the quarterback for most of Saturday’s game here at noon against the St. Paul’s Crusaders.
Mark Mercure also will see some action at quarterback.
“We’ll run our four or five basic running plays and we’ll use some quick passes,” Swing added.
But because this year’s edition lost several key players on the offensive side of the ball, including three of their four starting receivers in Mike Canfield, Mike Noonan, and Gary Wagner, and star offensive lineman, Bill Crewson, Swing said you won’t see the razzle-dazzle the team displayed last season.
“This is a young team so you won’t see those gadget plays on offence,” he stressed.
While the black-and-gold will try to simplify things on offence, they also will tone things down a bit on defence, said Swing, electing to choose a more conservative approach than the past two seasons.
“Defensively, again we’ll use our multiple fronts, but we will blitz very little compared to last year,” he noted. “We want to make sure the kids have the defence down.”
Defensive co-ordinator Brent DeBenedet expects this year’s unit to be just as strong as the ones who dominated NOrWOSSA for the past couple of seasons. In fact, he sees no reason why this year’s defence won’t control its opponents—whether they are based out of Winnipeg or the States.
“We’ll get stronger and stronger as the team gets more used to the system, and we’ll continue to try to keep teams off the scoreboard,” he said. “We will adapt our defence according to our personnel, which is a quick team, and we’ll have plays in place to keep teams off balance.”
Swing noted several players will be forced to play both sides of the ball on Saturday due, in part, to a lower number with the team than in past years.
Just 33 players have come out for training camp so far but Swing said he knows of at least two more who should be in uniform this year, including Dan Ribeiro, an exchange student from Brazil who starred with the Muskie boys’ soccer team.
He may solve their problem in the place-kicking position, which saw several players take a shot at kicking off and attempting field goals and extra points last season.
Still, Swing said he’s not too worried with the drop in numbers and upholds the philosophy that quantity isn’t always better than quality.
“The numbers are definitely down but we’re happy with the guys we have out because it’s the guys we want out,” he stressed. “Even though we’re younger, we have a lot more speed and enthusiasm.
Our guys will make mistakes but we’ll be flying when we make them,” he enthused.
< *c>Out for revenge
The Muskies will be looking to avenge last year’s 31-28 exhibition loss to St. Paul’s there. The Winnipeg team is under the direction of new head coach Mike Watson.
“Mike is the new head coach and we’re familiar with what they do as they are with what we do,” said Swing.
The black-and-gold play their first road game of the season the following Friday at 7 p.m. when they take on the International Falls Broncos at Bronco Stadium.
The rest of the Muskie schedule, which will be made up of games against teams from Winnipeg and the U.S. due to the cancellation of the NorWOSSA season, had yet to be finalized as of press time.