That’s the mantra being preached by Muskie football head coach Dean Bruyere heading into the Winnipeg High School Football League season next month.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge, but I’m hoping people aren’t expecting miracles this year,” Bruyere stressed. “It’d be fairly optimistic to say we’ll even match last year’s [2-5] record, but we’re not going to lose because we don’t know what we’re doing out there, I’ll guarantee you that.
“We’re going to be thin on numbers and experience, [but] we’re not going to beat ourselves,” Bruyere added. “I’ve got some quality guys with me [on the coaching staff], and we’re going to execute.
“[If we lose] we’re going to get beat fair and square by a bigger, faster, stronger team,” Bruyere vowed.
The bulk of last season’s key personnel graduated this spring—meaning plenty of big shoes need to be filled going into training camp Aug. 24.
“There’s going to be some big holes to fill,” Bruyere admitted. “We lost [Blake] Wepruk, [Jeremy] Whitehead, [Mason] McKay, [Tyler] Romyn, [Jimmy] Whitburn, and the list goes on and on, and those guys had oodles of experience.”
“Pretty much the guys who played certain positions last year will be back in those positions,” Bruyere continued.
“Danny Brunetta is probably going to be the starting QB for obvious reasons, and we’re going to try [Tyler] Abma at running back, whether it’s tail or full, we’re not sure yet.”
The fall camp will start next Monday (Aug. 24) and run from 6 p.m. till dark. Bruyere said it will present an opportunity for players to showcase their skills and allow the coaching staff to figure out who fits in where.
“It’ll be an evaluation to see what we got for talent and where guys are going to play, and then it’ll primarily be focused on conditioning,” Bruyere explained. “We do want to make sure we get our system in place.
“Our offence is pretty much ‘here’s what we’re running, come and stop it,’” Bruyere noted. “We’re simplifying it. We’re going to do the simple things, but do them well.”
Meanwhile, the black-and-gold will be joined by a slew of new teams in Tier II of the WHSFL for this season—presenting further challenges.
The Kas Vidruk Division—which was an eight-team circuit a year ago—has been expanded to include 13 teams with the additions of expansion teams the Vincent Massey Trojans (Winnipeg), Vincent Massey Vikings (Brandon, Mb.), Crocus Plains Plainsmen (Brandon), and Neelin Spartans (Brandon).
The division will also include the Grant Park Pirates, Miles Mac Buckeyes, and River East Kodiaks, who have all been relegated from the Tier I John Potter Division for this coming season.
The Portage Trojans move up from Tier III (Andy Currie Division) while the NorWOSSA-rival Dryden Eagles have subsequently dropped down to Tier III.
The Kenora Broncos, Maples Marauders, Garden City Fighting Gophers, and Tec Voc Hornets join the Muskies as the only remaining teams from last season still in the division.
Last year’s Tier II champs, the Sturgeon Heights Huskies, have moved up to Tier I.
Fort High will open the new campaign Sept. 11 at 4 p.m. against a familiar foe, the Kenora Broncos, on the road.
Their first home game will be the following Friday (Sept. 18) against the Winnipeg-based Vincent Massey Trojans (all home games start at 3 p.m.), and then Fort High goes on the road in Week 3 on Sept. 25 against the River East Kodiaks (3 p.m. start-time).
Week 4 has the Muskies on the road again versus the Maples Marauders on Oct 1. The black-and-gold beat the Marauders last season for one of their two victories (the other being against Kenora).
The home team returns to host Miles Mac in Week 5 on Oct. 9, and then goes back to Winnipeg to face Tec Voc the following week on Oct. 15.
“We’ve got a couple Thursday games,” Bruyere lamented. “I’ve talked to Ron Gustafson [WHSFL Commissioner] about it and one [versus Maples] he can’t change because the Blue Bombers are in [Friday] and we have to play at Canad Inns [Stadium].
“Those [Thursday games] are tough on us because our kids would have to go to school in the morning and we wouldn’t get in until 2 a.m. and all our [coaches] work,” Bruyere noted.
The Muskies host Portage in their season finale on Oct. 24.
The quarterfinals go the following week (Oct. 29-30), with the semifinals scheduled for the first week of November, while the championship bowl games are set for Nov. 13 at Canad Inns Stadium. The Tier II “Free Press Bowl” is on the docket at 5 p.m.
The team will be bolstered by a deeper lineup of coaches than in recent years, but that list doesn’t include Lou Gauthier, who won’t be back due to work commitments nor Todd Calder, who has decided to take a pass due to personal reasons.
Andrew George will resume his role at the helm of the offence while Bob Whitburn will take the reins on the defensive side of the ball. Chad Canfield will work specifically with the running backs and linebackers, while Ron Fryer will run the receiving core.
Former running back Matt DePiero will assume a role helping with the offence and defensive backs.
“We’re going to be a little thin when it comes to a d-backs coach,” Bruyere said. “Greg Allan has done that [in the past] but he’s going down to the junior program, and none of us have any real experience with that.”
Former head coach Bob Swing will head the junior program [Grade 6-8] working directly with Allan, Jim DePiero, Walter Prymak, Darcy Maguire, and Doug Stein—though no one’s position is set in stone depending on where guys are most needed.
Glen Mounk has also offered his services to help with conditioning.
“I want to send our guys to the Nike coaches clinic in the winter as well,” Bruyere added.
Wins have been few and far between for the football program in recent years, but the plan is to lay the foundation this year towards bringing it back to respectability down the road.
“Once we get those Grade 8 kids up in Grade 11, we’re going have a pretty steady team,” Bruyere suggested. “Once they become seniors we’ll have guys who have played for four years, but right now we’re not going to have that experience.
“Next year we’ll have a group of Grade 9s which will steady us up some,” Bruyere continued. “Matt DeBenedet, in Grade 8, actually beat our quarterback by one or two tenths of a second in the 40[yard dash], so he’s going to be a welcome addition to the junior program.
“In hindsight, we almost could’ve dropped down to that third division with Dryden, but my fear was if we went down we wouldn’t be able to get back up [in a later year],” Bruyere said.
“We should probably be in the top division but we need to get our program back in place running smooth first.”
Bruyere said it’s important to continue the history of Muskie football, which he said has been a part of the community even longer than high school hockey.
“All you have to do is look around this [WHSFL] league. You have Brett Watt and Jeff Mair [former alumnus] coaching [the Sturgeon Heights Huskies], and Neil McLeod with Dryden,” Bruyere noted.
“Adrian Huntley [with the St. Norbert Celtics] is now coaching in the league, so that’s a lot of Fort Frances flavour smattered throughout that league,” Bruyere said.
“I coached [Huntley] as a tight end many, many years ago, and he went on and almost made the Bombers,” Bruyere enthused. “I was actually wondering where he was, so it was good to see his name.”
On a related note, that list of former Muskies in coaching positions includes Kurt Thornton, who received a community service award last year from the city of Surrey for his commitment to coaching at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School there.