The Paul Kane Blues are expecting the unexpected after switching divisions in metro Edmonton high school football.
The undefeated Miles division two champions the last two years will see how good they really are in the Carr division one ranks.
“We’re very excited but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said head coach Rob Strecker, prior to Wednesday’s session at the senior team’s fall camp at Riel Recreation Park. “I’m confident in the athletes that we have here but you never know. It’s a step up so we’ll see what happens.”
The Blues finished 8-1 last year and 10-1 in 2013 and both losses were in the Tier II north provincial playoffs against the Alberta Bowl Champions after running the Miles table.
“It’s going to be different than last year for sure. We’re all looking forward to see how it’s going to be,” said Tanner Buchanan, a Grade 12 slotback/linebacker. “I really don’t know what to expect. I don’t think anyone really does. We just have to go with it, play and practice like nothing has changed and just keep doing how we were doing the last couple of years. If we do that we’ll be fine.”
The Miles is a major step below the Carr.
“One of the big reasons for us climbing up to the Carr is we just weren’t getting that competition in Miles. What we did last year with the majority of our guys being in Grade 11, and now they’re all back, there could’ve been some ugly games (in the Miles) so it was the right decision,” Strecker said. “It’s a whole new different ball game up here in the Carr with bigger squads size-wise and numbers-wise. We’re still coming at them with our thirty, thirty-five guys but we’re looking forward to it.”
The Blues will line up in the Carr with 15 returning players and an influx of juniors.
“We knew what we had coming back and what we had coming up from junior so that was another one of the big reasons for us to make that jump,” Strecker said.
A strong skill set includes slotback/linebacker Aiden Mueller, the team’s nominee for the Haliburton Trophy as the MVP in the Miles, quarterback Brendan Guy, physical linemen Zack Dreger and Julian Pawlychka, offensive threat Ty Beck, defensive gem Isaiah Ansah and junior standout Keaton Zaychkowsky, the Grant Yuzyk Trophy recipient as the pool B MVP in the metro league who was impressive in both the Miles final and Tier II loss to the St. Joseph’s Celtics of Grande Prairie.
“We didn’t lose very much last year and I think nothing will really change,” Buchanan said. “We’ve been together for a while. Everyone is friends here and we all work together really well. We just have to try harder, work harder and practice harder.”
Buchanan, 17, and Dreger, a noted long snapper, were among the few metro league players to make Team Alberta for the U18 Football Canada Cup in July at Quebec. Dreger was unable to attend nationals because of a left ankle injury.
“I was surprised but really happy about that I made the team,” said Buchanan, who caught a pair of passes for seven yards for the fourth-place 1-2 Alberta squad. “It was fun and I learned a lot. It gives me more confidence for sure. You can tell how much better you got just by all the coaches and players you’ve worked with.”
Last year at wideout, Buchanan ranked second behind Mueller on the Blues in receiving yards and was third overall in the Miles with 319 on 14 catches for five touchdowns.
“It was good experience. I got the ball a lot,” said the six-foot-two receiver with deceptive speed.
Season kicks off
Friday the Blues hosted the McNally Tigers from the Miles in a controlled scrimmage and next week a small Paul Kane roster of players are in Texas to play the Groesbeck Goats.
The Carr lid-lifter for the Blues is Sept. 10 against the Spruce Grove Panthers at 6 p.m. at Fuhr Sports Park.
The last game is Oct. 30 against the AOB Crusaders, which could have a bearing on which team represents the metro league in the Tier II playoffs.
“It’s a long season. There will be peaks and valleys. Obviously you don’t want to start off 0-4 or 0-5 or something like that. You would like to get some wins early,” Strecker said. “It will be a challenge but absolutely you want a fast start. It would be great to start the year off with a good solid game against Spruce Grove but the week after it’s Bev Facey so it’s going to be tough.”
However, the Battle of St. Albert against the Bellerose Bulldogs on Oct. 2 looms large for a variety of reasons.
“That game is a month away. We’ve always taken it one game at a time and I always make sure that we’re always focused on that next game. We can’t be worried about some game that is happening two or three games away because what will happen if you start doing that then somebody is going to catch up and nip you in the butt,” Strecker said. “Obviously that week will be exciting. The players have buddies over at Bellerose and the schools will be hyping it up and they’re going to be excited so we’re definitely going to have to try and play it down the best we can but in the end it’s only two points. Sure, there is some bragging rights but you don’t see bragging rights in the paper, you see two points, so that’s how we’re going to be approaching that game during that week.”