With the start of the Metro Edmonton High School Athletics football season mere weeks away, St. Albert's high school teams are in the thick of training camps, gearing up for a high-intensity season on the gridiron.
Bellerose, Paul Kane, SACHS, and Sturgeon are all holding training camps throughout the last few weeks of summer. These schools are honing their strategies and finalizing their rosters — with the latter three preparing for the highly-anticipated M.E. Lazerte jamboree on Aug. 26, an event that will see Sturgeon and Paul Kane go head-to-head.
Coach Chad Hill, previously of Bellerose, is now leading the charge at Sturgeon, and he's excited about the competition that lies ahead.
"I expect the Miles Division to be ultra-competitive," Hill said. "Every game will be a battle, and preparation will be paramount for success."
While there are favourites at the season’s outset, the division title is anyone’s to grab.
“The SFX Rams and Bellerose Bulldogs are probably the most experienced and talented in the division, but the intriguing aspect about playing in the Miles Division is that any team can win on any given night,” Hill said.
Pre-season action is an important opportunity for players to get back into the swing of things, and a chance for the coaches to evaluate a team's makeup. Sturgeon has more than 60 student-athletes registered, but plans to cut down to 46 for a travel team that will compete in Cold Lake. Hill said the team will dress no more than 52 for league play.
Pre-season games promise to offer some fierce competition.
"PK takes on Tier 3 provincial champs the Holy Rosary Raiders; Belle plays the Centennial Coyotes from Calgary; and we travel to Cold Lake to play the Royals," Hill said.
There have been several changes in terms of divisional movement and provincial aspirations for local teams.
Paul Kane has moved up to the Carr Conference (D1), their first time in nearly a decade. "
They won the Miles Division (D2) last season and have the majority of their core players returning, including all-star receivers Josh Mah, Alex Fairbank, Cam Coyne, and defensive back Ryker Latimer," Hill said. He also highlights the addition of Bellerose transfer James Hill at quarterback, calling him, "widely regarded as the No. 1 QB in Edmonton Metro."
Bellerose, meanwhile, will compete in the Miles Division (D2) this season, boasting Grade 12 talent like linebackers Braxton Turner, Jamie Clark, and Everett Draudson, as well as Grade 11 receivers Darius Crandel, Arlen Gray, and Ty Kohut.
Sturgeon is also moving up to the Miles Division after a dominant performance in the Gilfillan Division (D3) in 2022. Sturgeon will compete against Bellerose in the last game of the season on Oct. 20.
"Playoffs, as well as provincial berths, could be on the line," Hill said.
Sturgeon will look different from its championship 2022 squad.
"We graduated 25 seniors," Hill said. "We will lean heavily on Grade 12 vets Austin Panchyshyn and Dustin Campbell, who will both see reps at QB and receiver."
Among other young prospects, Hill also mentioned six-foot-five, 235-pound Adam Dahoy, who will provide a physical presence at tight end and defensive end.
Training camp, according to Hill, is vital for teams, "as coaches get to put players in positions that are best for both individual growth and team success."
He stressed the importance of unity and cohesion, the teaching and practice of fundamentals before the regular season, and the inevitable changes that come with the start of training camp.
“It’s a time to ensure that the fundamentals are taught and practised before the regular season begins,” Hill said. “There are always unexpected surprises in August — sometimes good and sometimes bad. But in 18 years of coaching high school ball, we have never had an off-season plan that didn't change once training camp began.”
Meanwhile, St. Albert football fans eagerly wait for the start of what promises to be a high-octane season, with all eyes on the local teams. For those looking to follow along as the games get underway, a comprehensive schedule and league standings are available on the Metro Edmonton Athletics’ website.