One look at the WHSFL’s Kas Vidruk East Conference standings paints a pretty clear picture of the Muskie football team’s 2009 season.
An 0-7 record and lopsided point differential is tough to look at, to be sure, but considering the program was salvaged after a Week 3 forfeit loss to River East, things look healthier than they have all year going into the long off-season ahead.
“To even field a team was a big step for us [the last four weeks],” Muskie offensive co-ordinator Andrew George said.
“Unfortunately, these kids had to bear a lot of the burden and go out and recruit for us, and still go out and play knowing that the program was kind of falling apart.
“Our program literally hit rock bottom this year,” George admitted. “When you can’t even field a team, that’s rock bottom.
“But I think it was a necessary evil to get this program back on track, and to have everyone in the community understand what we need to be a successful program,” he stressed.
There were plenty of warning signs that suggested a step back this season—none bigger than the fact the last remnants of the previous junior program all graduated last spring, including standouts Tyler Romyn, Mason McKay, Josh Stevens, Matt DePiero, Jim
Whitburn, and Jeremy Whitehead.
“It was barely being held together for a while, and maybe us as coaches should’ve said something sooner, but unfortunately it reached a point where we couldn’t play,” George remarked.
The forfeit loss was a wake-up call that sparked a good response from the high school and community, but George said people can’t be satisfied with simply staying afloat.
“I know, just by talking to the principal and the athletic director, that they understand the importance of the football program, and they understand the philosophy it needs to have to be successful, so that’s really encouraging,” George said.
“I do see a lot of positive signs, but it’s going to be a lot of work,” he conceded.
“I think you need to keep going and getting more coaches trained, getting more players, and having an off-season program in place.”
George noted football can’t simply be a two-month hobby while taking a back seat to other activities the other 10 months of the year.
“Having a spring camp and an exhibition game in May is step one because a lot of teams in Winnipeg have that,” he said.
“You need guys working by themselves [in the gym] and you need to get with the guys in the off-season to a point,” he added.
“You don’t want to overburden them with football, either, because they’re still kids, but we were getting out-manned physically a lot of times.”
The resurrected Muskie junior program also was a positive step this season, but George said having it in place doesn’t guarantee success.
“Having the junior program in place can help us, but I really do warn people not to rely on that saving the program,” George stressed.
“I was involved in two seasons where we saw the top of the junior cycle produce a graduating senior class, once when I was playing in my Grade 12 year and last year when I coached,” he recalled.
“When I was playing in Grade 12, our seniors were the last of what we called the ‘C’ program at the time. Looking at that ‘C’ team picture, four of us from Grade 8 went on to play all the way to grade 12.
“And when we made it to Grade 12, we lost every game that season.
“Last season while I was coaching, we had a very strong senior group, a lot of them played with each other since Grade 7, [but] we underachieved and only won two games,” George added.
“A junior team is something necessary to have a successful program, don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely crucial,” he argued. “But just having it function doesn’t guarantee success, as we see by its track record.”
To make matters worse, George won’t be on the coaching staff next season.
“It’s not a surprise to anybody. When I took over, I explained to the school administration that this was only an interim gig for me,” George noted. “I’d love to do this every year, I really enjoyed it, but the program needs some stability at the head coaching position.
“I’m always unsure what I’m doing year-to-year because of the nature of my work,” he added. “If you’d ask me now, I’m likely headed back to university next year.
“I do plan to come back to this program one day, though, [but] just need to get some stability in my life.”
Despite the winless campaign, the black-and-gold were held together by a strong core of elite players, notably seniors Dan Brunetta, Andre Valenzuela, Tyler Abma, Donny Krishka, and Britt Green before his injury.
But football is a game played by 11 players on the field with teamwork taking precedence over individual talent—and even one soft spot in a defence can be exposed by a savvy co-ordinator on the opposing sidelines.
There are some big holes to fill, but several players eligible to return made great strides and should make up the core of next season’s squad.
“Guys like Brad McDonald, Cody Bodnar, Lucas Hudson, [and] Cody Hunsperger will lead this team next year,” George said. “They were solid contributors this year, and next year they’re going to be awesome.
“Brad has a chance to be a special player,” he lauded. “He’s in grade 11 and is already giving defences fits.
“But there are always guys that you don’t expect rise up to a high level of play,” George noted. “Ian Grant could be one of those guys. He’s under-sized but he plays with a tremendous amount of heart, and has football smarts.
“They call him ‘Rudy’ out there,” George added. “He was just starting to read things on the field, and suggesting offensive plays that made sense, and that’s really encouraging.”
The Muskies concluded their season with a 57-0 blanking at the hands of Portage Collegiate Institute last Friday afternoon at Muskie Field.
PCI’s Josh Giroux set the tone when he raced downfield and delivered a huge hit on Krishka on the opening kick-off—with the loud hit successfully lighting a fire under his teammates.
The Trojans were in a must-win situation and came out with guns blazing, and the Muskies simply weren’t able to match the intensity level.
Brendon Brydges returned a pair of kicks for touchdowns in the first half, and the game was all but over at half-time with the visitors leading 37-0.
“I hate to say it but our guys got scared,” George admitted. “That hurt us throughout the game and we played like it.
“It didn’t help that we didn’t have a great week of practice,” he added. “If you look back this year at practice attendance and how well we played [in that week’s game], our best week of practice was the week we played Miles Mac [and scored 28 points].
“We had 30 guys that week, and this last week we had 20-21 players [at practice].”
Curtis Boivin handled the punting duties for the injured Green and did a serviceable job that should make it his for the taking next season.
With Friday’s win, PCI (3-4) snuck into the playoffs in the Kas Vidruk East Conference ahead of Miles Mac (3-4) due to winning their head-to-head meeting back in Week 2. They now will take on the other Trojans—second-place Vincent Massey (5-2)—in one quarter-final.
Miles Mac, meanwhile, will meet top-ranked River East (5-2) in the other divisional playoff match-up.
In related news, the Kenora Broncos (2-4-1) were eliminated from playoff contention in the East Conference after a disappointing 50-13 loss to Vincent Massey on Friday.
In the Kas Vidruk West Conference, Grant Park (6-1) beat St. Paul’s (5-2) on Thursday to earn top spot and a first-round showdown with 3-4 Vincent Massey (Brandon) while St. Paul’s clashes with Neelin (4-2-1).