The Muskies are hoping touch football was the answer.
Incoming head coach Chad Canfield, who started the Sunday afternoon program, noted the games have unearthed some younger players interested in joining the black-and-gold for the upcoming season—and should boost numbers from the brink of disaster into a comfortable territory.
That’s excellent news for the Muskies, who will begin their journey back from a tumultuous 2009 season in the Winnipeg High School Football League when camp kicks off this coming Monday (Aug. 23) at 6 p.m. at Fort High.
“We’ve done pretty well,” enthused Canfield, a former star player for the Muskies, who will compete in the Tier I Andy Currie division this season—moving down from the Tier II Kas Vidruk division.
“I’d say we’ve probably seen 10 new people playing touch [football], and then we’ve had a lot of the guys that are really committed to playing football every week,” he added.
Canfield said the bulk of the newcomers are entering Grade 9 this fall, and that many of them were on a Toronto trip when the Muskies held their spring camp back in June.
He noted a number of players expected to form the core of the squad going forward have been out, as well.
“We’ve had quite a few regulars, and the guys come when they can make it,” said Canfield.
“I understand they have to work, certainly, so sometimes they can’t make it.
“Hopefully, when we start rolling with the official practices, they’ll be able to work something out with their bosses and be available those times,” he remarked.
Combined with the 25 bodies that attended the spring camp, the freshmen would boost the total number of players to 35—a much safer number for the future of the club, especially when an injury or two inevitably pops up during the course of a season.
That was the major undoing of last year’s crew—the Muskies had to forfeit its Sept. 25 game against the River East Kodiaks due to a lack of players.
“I don’t think we’re really going to have too much trouble reaching where we need to be, as far as having one guy for each position,” Canfield said.
“There are probably going to be some circumstances where we’re going to have to have guys going two ways again, but we’re going to try to avoid that as much as we possibly can,” he stressed.
The youthful turnout will mean a lot of the basics will be taught over the first few days of camp. And while Canfield acknowledged a few will have to shake some bad habits from other sports, the benefits of having athletic players should outweigh that time spent in the long run.
“We’re expecting a lot of new faces out there, so probably just the fundamentals of tackling and blocking and catching,” he remarked.
“It’s mostly just the fundamentals that I’m going to expect for the next little while.
“They hit like hockey players,” he noted. “They hit with their shoulders and turn sideways, which is the wrong way to hit in football.
“It takes a little while to correct that and work on some fundamentals, but it doesn’t take too long.
“Good athletes will catch on fast,” he reasoned.
Because of the emphasis on core skills, Canfield stressed the importance of players attending the first two weeks of practice since the team will be expected to build up its skill set during camp—even though classes aren’t in session yet.
“I’m really hoping that everybody that’s interested in football will be out there on [Aug. 23] and not just when school starts,” he reiterated.
“They’ll be too far behind and we really need them to be there right when we’re starting,” he argued.
“[They’ll] build skills and it’ll give us a better idea of who can play where.”
While 2010 likely will end up being a big year of learning for the black-and-gold, Canfield is optimistic that as younger players begin to develop, the team will build a particularly strong nucleus that should become stronger over the next few seasons.
“What’s great about this is when you get a young team like this, we’re expecting to have, three or four years down the road, . . . a group of guys with a whole lot of experience, so I really think it’s going to benefit us a lot,” he said.
The black-and-gold will see its first game action Sept. 3—an exhibition game against the St. Norbert Celtics, coached by ex-Muskie Adrian Huntley, in Winnipeg.
As for the ones that count, Fort High will have four regular-season home games this season, beginning Sept. 10 at 3 p.m. against Elmwood.
The annual Homecoming game with take place two weeks later when the black-and-gold host the Daniel McIntyre Maroons on Sept. 24 at 3 p.m.
October will bring another pair of home affairs, with the Stonewall Rams paying a visit Oct. 1 before the Muskies close out the regular season Oct. 22 against St. Norbert.
Both of those games also will start at 3 p.m. at Muskie Field.