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    Categories: Football

Paul Kane football team drops down into Miles

EXCHANGE - Noel Blanchette hands the ball off to Moe Tarrabain at practice last week for the Paul Kane Blues. Thursday the Blues tackle the Ardrossan Bisons in exhibition action at 5 p.m. at Emerald Hills and the division two Miles conference pool B opener in the metro Edmonton league is Sept. 14 against the O'Leary Spartans at 5:25 p.m. at Clarke Stadium.

Inquiring minds want to know: why did the Paul Kane Blues move back into the division two Miles conference and fold the junior team this year in high school football?

Rob Strecker, head coach of the seventh-place senior team in the division one Carr conference in 2016 after the Blues reached the Carr final the previous year in the metro Edmonton league, presented his case at Monday’s practice.

“It was a difficult decision especially for myself and you know me I’m a competitive guy. I always want to play in the best division but to be viable in the Carr you need a number of things. Number one, you have to have a minimum of 36 guys. Two, you need at least eight big bodies to play line and the third factor is that you need a number of kids with football experience coming into high school and at Paul Kane with our population size we just couldn’t get those three factors,” said Strecker of the Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) Blues, 1-6-1 in 2016 and 8-2 in 2015 in Carr and both years lost the Tier II north semifinal in the provincial playdowns.

“The one thing the football community needs to know or understand is we’re the only school in Carr in division one that drew from one. Every other school in Carr draws from two and some schools even draw from three so you can see that is a major disadvantage for us,” Strecker added. “It was tough to compete with that so with all those factors the best option for us, and although I enjoyed the competition, was to go back to play schools where they were more our population size so that’s why we chose to go to Miles.”

The Paul Kane football program was formed in 2011 and this is the first year the Blues will field one team.

“As for why we dropped the junior program that was definitely a numbers thing,” Strecker said. “In springtime when we were looking at our registrations for football there were a number of our boys that played on the team last year in Grade 10 and for whatever reason decided that ‘you know what, I gave football a shot but it’s not my thing’ so we were left in a little bit of a hole with returning guys coming back. I also had a couple of my seniors decide that they didn’t want to play any more and I had a couple of transfers.

“I’m thinking to myself, geez, I don’t want to scrum together two teams to have in the fall and then having to pull the chute on the junior program the first week and screw up their schedule so I thought, OK, why don’t we take the model of some of the really successful programs in the province, your Foothills (Okotoks, Tier II), your St. Joe’s (Grande Prairie, Tier II), Cochrane (Tier III) and Bev Facey (Tier I) now and they’re all going to one team. We thought why don’t we give this a go. We’ll put the junior program on hold and we’ll see how it goes and we’ll give this model a try and if it works then maybe we’ll stay with it.

“If our population surges (and) our school starts to bust at the seams then there is a demand to have two teams and for sure we’re going to look at that again but I think this was probably our best option.”

The birth of the football Blues started with Paul Kane’s divorce from the St. Albert Catholic High School football program as a feeder school for the senior and junior Skyhawks.

In the inaugural 2011 campaign, the senior Blues were 0-6 in the Carr and the junior team won the premier championship to finish 7-1.

The next year Strecker took over the senior team’s coaching duties and after going 3-5 in Carr the Blues dropped down into Miles and during the first two years of the Edmonton metro and public league merger went undefeated as back-to-back Miles champions and both years their only loss was in the Tier II playdowns – 2013 north final against the Austin O’Brien Crusaders and 2014 north semifinal to St. Joe’s.

After the second Miles championship, the Blues rejoined the Carr while posting an overall 8-3 record that included two losses to Facey and the north semifinal setback against St. Joe’s.

“That was a tough call for us too going back up there because we knew we were also going to get years like last year but if we had stayed in Miles that year (2015) everyone would’ve been calling for my head. We crushed everyone other than Facey in Carr and if we had stayed in the Miles that year it would’ve been difficult,” Strecker said. “We still only had 31 guys but you know why we got lucky that year? We had no injuries. I had Keaton (Zaychkowsky) that went down at the end of the year but other than that we had nothing.

“Last year, oh my God, between guys hurt – and everyone runs into the problem – but I had guys quitting on the team and all of a sudden now I have no roster. I had no big guys. We had four linemen. You’re going against the Ainlays and Faceys that have two lines, they have an O-line and a D-line, and my four guys are going both ways. We can’t do it and that’s kind of where I thought, OK, you need to have big boys, you need to have 36 guys and you need to have guys with football experience coming in. It’s one thing for me pulling my kids out of gym classes who never played football before but you’re going against these factory schools that have kids that have gone through the minor systems.”

Last year was pretty dismal for the 1-7-1 Blues. The only victory was against the winless Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds and the 22-15 loss to the Lloydminster Barons in the north semifinal was littered with flags as the undisciplined and short-staffed Blues racked up what seemed to be more penalties than first downs.

Strecker stressed the Blues were in every game but the fourth quarter was their downfall despite a gallant effort by the defence, ranked sixth-best in the conference averaging 22.2 points against. The offence, however, was a mess averaging an anemic 12.6 points per game.

“Last year was a tough year. It was a grind just the way everything went,” Strecker said. “I’m excited about this year. I’m looking forward to it. It’s kind of a clean slate from last year.

“This is the youngest team that I’ve ever had and the least experienced. We only have seven guys from our team from last year returning so I’m looking for some good leadership out of Connor Guy, Ethan Brandsma and Jake Strakowitz and then from our junior team I have Alex Gamble coming up, he’s going to provide us with a lot of spark, and Rylan Baerg,” said Strecker, who listed Guy and Ethan Wedman as the team’s hopefuls at quarterback after last year’s junior standout, Russell Dixon, transferred to the Jasper Place Rebels. Dixon was pencilled in as the starting quarterback this year before joining the Carr team at Jasper Place.

“For our young guys coming into Grade 10 I have Matt Cassidy on the line and the Ma twins, Cam and Matt, and they’re going to add a lot of energy to our football team,” Strecker said. “I also have a lot of kids who have never played before and decided I want to give this a go. They’re really good athletes but the football IQ is a little low so we have some work to do in that area.

“We’ll also try and work on our speed and skill.”

The Blues are among a handful of Tier II teams in the Miles and the one that finishes the highest at the end of the season will join Austin O’Brien from the Carr as the two metro reps in the Tier II playdowns.

Thursday the Blues huddle up against the Ardrossan Bisons, a pool A opponent in Miles. The exhibition kicks off at 5 p.m. at Emerald Hills.

The league opener is Sept. 14 against the O’Leary Spartans at 5:25 p.m. at Clarke Stadium.

Jeff Hansen: Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.