Adrian Huntley admitted it was a little bizarre being back at Muskie Field, especially considering he no longer was a member of the black-and-gold.
Instead of hauling in passes, Huntley, a former Muskie and University of Manitoba Bison receiver, was at the helm this time, guiding the visiting St. Norbert Celtics to a 41-31 win over Fort High on Friday afternoon.
“It was a little strange at first, I’m not going to lie,” he remarked. “Being back on the field, on the other side and not in Muskie colours, was a little bit strange.
“Even staying in the hotel—the hotel was right across from my mom and dad’s house—so it was strange being in town staying in a hotel right across from mom and dad’s,” he added.
Still, Huntley said it was enjoyable to be back at Fort High, odd as it felt.
“It felt good to come home. That place has a lot of special memories for me,” he enthused.
The win was only the second ever for the sophomore Celtics, whose first victory came with a 34-12 upset of the third-place Daniel McIntyre Maroons two weeks ago.
Huntley has helped build the program right from its inception, including a winless season last year that saw the Celtics allow more than 300 points while not cracking 20 of their own.
Like the current Muskies, Huntley had to deal with a smaller roster of 34, many of whom were true rookies when it came to the sport.
“We started completely from scratch,” he stressed. “30 of them had never been on a football field.
“Some of them had not even seen a football before, so it was really starting from the grassroots up.”
But the players developed their skills throughout the season and the team ended up growing, as well, with the roster ballooning to 44 players this year.
“The kids kept improving throughout, and they found the positives,” Huntley said. “They found the fun side of football.
“They were really young, so we knew we’d have them for a few years, and it’s starting to pay off in our second year,” he added.
The Celtics (2-5) won two of their final three games heading into the WHSFL playoffs, and should provide a challenge to the second-place Stonewall Rams (5-2).
“We’re starting to see some high-calibre play out of a lot of the kids, so it’s been really nice,” Huntley said.
“The skill is definitely there. The heart and the effort is definitely there,” he stressed.
The biggest area in which the Celtics struggle is just basic experience as the young team still is seeing new things and is unsure of how to react.
“A lot of situations come up on the football field where our kids haven’t experienced a situation and they’re not really sure what to do,” Huntley explained.
“As a coach, you can’t teach them what to expect all the time, so some stuff does come up and they learn on the fly.”
He cited Friday’s win over Fort High as an example, noting the Muskies were able to get back in the game when the Celtics let off the gas, although they were able to recover quickly enough to hold on to the victory.
“Even in the game on Friday, we’re up 27-0 heading into halftime and we’re extremely happy with the first half,” he remarked.
“Our kids have never been in that situation before, where they’re up with a score like that, so they don’t know how to maintain that intensity.
“As coaches, we’re happy with the outcome, so it’s another learning experience,” he noted.
With the Celtics’ program getting off the ground despite a smaller student population than Fort High, Huntley hopes to see a renaissance at his alma mater.
He thinks Chad Canfield’s group is off to a good start, but without a boost in numbers, acknowledges the black-and-gold will be in tough.
“I was looking at the way their kids played, especially in the second half,” he observed. “They didn’t lose heart. They came out and played a tough second half.
“They just need some more bodies, some more athletes.”
Huntley urged students thinking about playing football to try the sport next year.
Friday’s game also provided Huntley the opportunity to walk down memory lane as three former coaches were in attendance, as was former teammate Shane Beckett.
“Seeing the coaches that I had and seeing people like Shane, and then being able to see my kids on the field creating some of their own memories, it really makes me realize how it’s gone full circle for me,” Huntley said.
“In football, it’s just awesome to see a new group of kids having those positive experiences.”
And despite being named a Canada West all-star with the University of Manitoba Bisons in the late 1990s, Huntley maintained his best football memories came right here.
“What I remember best is just the teammates,” he reminisced. “Through football, they became my best friends.”