Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nowak behind Muskie football push

When it comes to Muskie football, Matthew Nowak isn’t going to sit quietly in the shadows anymore.
With the team’s main training camp having begun on Monday, the Grade 11 defensive back is intent on rallying both his school and his community to support the black-and-gold gridiron program.

“I feel really passionate about football and it’s been tough to see it go down the last two years that I’ve played,” said Nowak, who has designs on filling the vacant starting safety position manned last year by team MVP Braden Webb, who has now graduated.
“I’ve seen less and less people being excited about the program and less and less people showing up for games.”
The Muskies’ spring camp in June drew an average of only 20-25 players throughout the week, although there were some prospective players out of town due to other sporting or personal commitments.
Nowak said the low turnout led team trainer Ian McKay to approach new head coach Mike Cuzzolino about tapping some of the veteran talent to take on leadership responsibilities.
Enter Nowak, who was more than glad to shoulder the load.
“I’ve been getting on our players throughout the summer to get fit for the season and get them motivated,” he stated.
“It’s actually working better than I thought it would,” added Nowak.
“I was expecting them to brush me off at first, but most of the players have been very responsive.”
Natural leader
Cuzzolino effusively praised Nowak’s drive to help reenergize the program.
“I’m very proud of (Nowak’s) leadership role,” said Cuzzolino.
“He bleeds black and (gold). I think Nowak is developing into a good young leader that this team needs.
“I wish I had more guys like him that were dedicating themselves (to the program).”
Nowak has personally undergone his own intense training regimen in the form of his summer stint with the OPP’s community policing team, which brings on students to do a bicycle patrol of various Fort Frances neighbourhoods and handle other duties.
His daily routine includes plenty of heavy lifting, which inspired him to come up with another idea to heighten the community’s awareness of the football team.
“I thought it would be a good idea to have team members come out and help with the community food box program,” explained Nowak, who will be on hand with several of the Muskies today as the program does its monthly distribution of food to the community.
“I wanted to get the guys busy and get them out there so people know we’re out there and to try and promote the program,” he continued.
“I know they have a lot of volunteers already for the food box program. But hopefully they will like us and have us back and we can do this once a month in the summertime when the program is on next year.
“It’s good for students needing their community hours. I know people in Grade 12 still looking for hours and in one morning of doing the food box program, they could get four to five hours. Everyone benefits.”
Nowak’s enthusiasm to strengthen the football program seems to be getting contagious.
“Guys on the team are now going to friends of theirs who maybe have even a slight interest to try to get them to come out,” said Nowak, who was hoping for at least 40 players to attend this week’s main camp.
“This is a great sport,” he added, stating his hope is to have approximately 40 players on this year’s roster when all is said and done.
“There is a lot of teamwork involved and it gives you a lot of discipline. Some don’t want to come out because they think it’s too rough.
“But all I’m asking is try it out. Come to a practice or two and see if you like it. A team like this builds friendship. It’s kind of like a small family.”
Nowak praised McKay for going the extra mile to aid in getting the team ready ahead of time for the challenges of the Winnipeg High School Football League season.
“He’s done a lot for the program, from motivating guys by sending them inspirational videos to setting up a rigourous training program for the players,” complimented Nowak.
“He’s sunk his own time and money in to help build this team up.”
The Muskies kick off their regular-season schedule in Brandon against the Neelin Spartans on Sept. 4.
Black-and-gold fans will have to wait until the third week of the season to see their favourite footballers in person when Fort Frances hosts the Maples Marauders from Winnipeg on Sept. 19 at 4 p.m.

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