After forfeiting their WHSFL season-opener last week against the host Churchill Bulldogs due to inadequate practice time and not having enough players attending those practises, the Muskie football team is hopeful it will be able to play its next game this Friday when they face the host Tec Voc Hornets.
Head coach Mike Cuzzolino said the squad added seven new players on Monday, and that he and his coaching staff will be working diligently to get the players up to speed and ready to face the Hornets.
“So as of right now, we’ve suited up 33 players,” he noted. “But we need to make sure that [all] 33 players come to practice and prepare properly.
“Football, like any sport, is a game of preparation and winning happens at practice,” Cuzzolino stressed.
“We have been working [for] a number of years to change our practice culture, so hopefully the forfeit of our first game is an awakening for the guys to realize that to play, we need to be at practice.
“We have a tremendous group of players and I’m proud to be the head coach of this team,” he added.
Cuzzolino, who has been part of the Muskie football program since 2010, said he’s excited to continue to be a part of its long and proud history.
“We have fallen on some hard times,” he conceded. “And we don’t have youth football like in some other communities, so kids don’t get a chance to discover football at an early age.
“We really need to bring back our Grade 7/8 youth team,” he said.
“Kenora and Dryden’s Grade 7/8 programs have helped their varsity programs immensely and we need to get that going to help boost our numbers, as well.”
Looking ahead to this Friday’s game against Tec Voc, Cuzzolino outlined the importance of his players being prepared for game play.
“The biggest keys to being successful on Friday are that we are prepared and assignment competent,” he remarked.
“We have a phenomenal coaching staff this season, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure the players will be ready to go.”
Cuzzolino said the team’s goals this season are to continue to grow the program, get people interested in football within the community, and to compete every game.
“We just want to continue to become more dynamic offensively while being a really solid tackling team defensively,” he explained.
“We want to really improve our special teams, both in kicking and coverage.
“The kids we have are athletes and kids with tremendous heart,” Cuzzolino lauded. “They have a never-give-up, never-say-die attitude and you can’t coach that.
“We just need more people to play.
“Position-wise, I think we’re going to be really strong on the offensive line,” he added. “They’re going to be a force.”
Cuzzolino also said wanted to address a “jeer” that ran in the paper regarding a photo taken at the team’s training camp that appeared on the front page of the Aug. 28 edition of the Daily Bulletin.
“We have never put any player in harm’s way, ever,” he stressed.
“The boy in question is our water boy, Kaleb Richards,” Cuzzolino noted. “He will be a Muskie next season and he only takes part in non-contact drills like footwork drills, running and catching drills, and nothing more.
“We have switched to a safer, rugby-based tackling system as to prevent injuries, especially concussions,” he added.
“We purchased two tackling wheels so players can practice form tackling in a safer, non-contact environment.
“And we limit our contact to about 75 minutes per day as per Football Canada regulations,” Cuzzolino explained.
“So that picture was taken out of context, and I wanted to take the time to ensure the public that player safety is paramount for us.”
In other team news, Muskie players will be going out door-to-door on Sept. 17-18 and Sept. 25-26 to sell discount cards at a cost of $20 each.
The cards also can be purchased at McTaggarts.
As well, the black-and-gold will be holding a fundraising barbecue this Saturday (Sept. 15) from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Safeway.