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St. Albert Bellerose Bulldogs welcome new football head coach

Zach Wilkie calls high school football the 'purest form of the sport'
Zach Wilkie, the new head coach for the Bellerose Bulldogs, says he got into education to be the head coach of a high school football program.

Taking on the role of football head coach at Bellerose Composite High School is a bit of a homecoming for Zach Wilkie.

Wilkie grew up in St. Albert, just a few blocks away from Bellerose. He finished high school at Paul Kane and played football for the St. Albert High School team and with the St. Albert Storm minor football team. After high school, he progressed to junior football, playing with the Edmonton Huskies, and later played for the University of Alberta Golden Bears.

He has also coached for the Bulldogs before. For one year, he was an assistant coach with team, before he left to help start the Sturgeon Composite Spirits along with that team’s head coach, Chad Hill. He had been with the Spirits since 2018.

“When this opportunity came about, it was something that I couldn't turn down,” he said. “This is why I got into education — to eventually be the head coach of a high school football program. It’s not lost on me how important of a position this is, in the influence you have on young athletes.”

It was “bittersweet” leaving the Spirits, he said. “But it's also kind of a new beginning.”

Wilkie will have some big cleats to fill. Last year both the junior and senior Bulldogs teams won the Edmonton Metro League championships in their respective divisions, and outgoing head coach Jason Lafferty netted a coach of the year award.

“He’s going to be along for the ride through this transition,” Wilkie said of Lafferty, whom he affectionately refers to as “coach Laff.”

The pair have a history together.

Lafferty coached Wilkie when Wilkie played for the Golden Bears.

“[Lafferty] has always had great relationships with his players, and I think that's something that I've carried with me into my coaching, going a little bit beyond the X's and O's and learning about the athletes and their hopes and dreams,” Wilkie said.

Lafferty said that Wilkie has “a good foundational knowledge” of what’s required in the Metro athletics division. “I've always really, really respected Zach and how he approached the game and the kids,” he said. “[Wilkie] is going to do it his way … He’s going to be great for the school… As a young coach who is going to have his first time wearing the big whistle, he's prepared for the challenge.”

Lafferty will be taking a two-year secondment, temporarily joining the Edmonton-based charity Ever Active Schools, which “promotes healthy, active school communities.”

The role will have a focus on Indigenous perspectives and Indigenous communities, Lafferty said.

Lafferty, who has been with the Bulldogs since 2018, “lost a lot of sleep” deciding whether leaving the team was the right move.

“To watch the players grow and change over the three years, it has been really rewarding from a coaching standpoint and teaching standpoint,” he said. “Everybody in our school who played football last year won their last game, and you don't always get that. It's pretty special to look back already and think of what was accomplished there.”

Wilkie said he’s already looking forward to starting spring camp with the Bulldogs next month. “We've got very strong returning class coming in,” he said.

He has some familiarity with the team already, having faced them last year when he was coaching for the Sturgeon Spirits.

He called high school football “the purest form of the sport.”

“There's great things about university football,” he said. “But with high school football, you get all types of kids in the door, and they come together, and they're all constantly working towards a team goal. You get them through these formative years, and you can really impact the skill set that they're going to take with them beyond football.”

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