The Muskie football team took the first on-field step to recovery Monday evening.
The black-and-gold opened spring camp with optimism for the future—even as the squad looks to rebound from a tumultuous 2009 season when the club went winless, including having to forfeit a game after the roster was ravaged by injuries.
Incoming head coach Chad Canfield said that he, his assistants, and returning players put forth a strong recruitment drive leading up to spring camp—and hoped to see that reflected in the number of bodies taking the field this week.
“The coaches and I have really been recruiting this year,” Canfield enthused. “The coaches and I sent out 70 recruiting letters to kids in the high school that we really thought could improve the program.
“I’ve also visited all of the boys’ phys. ed. classes that the high school is offering, and encouraging people to come out and play football, so we have some interest that way.
“We’re asking [returning players] to bring friends out, and people they think could help out the program,” Canfield added. “I’m hoping that happens.
“It’s just another way to build up some interest.”
About 25 hopefuls showed up for the opening of camp Monday, although Canfield noted at least six players who will enter Grade 9 next year are in Toronto on a school trip.
And he felt that the quality of the players is high—even if the quantity is not.
“I’m still optimistic that we will have success in the fall even if this is our total number,” he stressed.
“You can really see the hard work the students put in during the off-season.
“Just to name a few, Paul Vivian, Cody Hunsberger, and Brad MacDonald made great strides during the off-season,” Canfield noted. “There were certainly more.
“It is exciting to see a team grow like this.”
However, with a scrimmage against the Dryden Eagles looming here Saturday afternoon, the squad certainly could use reinforcements as soon as possible.
“We do need more to be successful against Dryden this weekend,” Canfield admitted. “They [the players who have showed up] are committed and have great attitudes.
“We just need more of them.”
Canfield’s dream roster consists of 50 players, but conceded he could make do with 35. Ideally, though, each player could focus on one position instead of two or even three like happened last season.
“What I would really like to see out there is 50 kids, each person learning one position,” he stressed.
“Last year, when I was assistant coach, we had most of our players going two ways, and it’s really unfair to ask a kid to go both ways and also play special teams,” he reasoned.
“It’s just too much to know.
“I’m hoping to have a couple of people at each position, and having them know it well,” he remarked.
Canfield acknowledged there are a number of things that need to be covered over the course of this week.
“We’ve only got a week, so we have to be really structured in the way we’re doing things for the first five days,” he said.
The first day of camp Monday was all about putting players through a number of different drills as the coaching staff tried to get a handle on each player’s strengths and weaknesses in order to slot them into a suitable position.
“We’re going to put every single kid through every single drill, so no positions are going to be set right away, even though we have a number of kids coming back from last year,” Canfield noted prior to camp.
“The coaches will be trying to identify to put people in the right spot,” he explained.
Players were not in full equipment Monday, instead running through drills including passing, catching, blocking, and simple tackling.
Yesterday, the players received equipment and were plugged into positions.
“We’ll hopefully have everybody broken up into the appropriate groups,” said Canfield.
“We’ve got some broad categories, like linemen, and then we group the linebackers and the running backs together, and the receivers and the DBs [defensive backs] and the quarterbacks all in one group.”
The week culminates with Saturday’s scrimmage against the Eagles at 12:30 p.m., so Canfield figures the final days of practice will be tightening up for game action.
“The fourth and fifth day [Thursday and Friday], we’ll have to get into running plays,” he noted.
“We’re by no means going to have a lot of plays when we go against Dryden, [but] we really want to have some plays that we know how to run well, and not a great number, just a handful of plays,” he said.
“Everybody needs to know their job when we’re running just a handful of plays,” he stressed.
Canfield added spring camp will provide the foundation for the coming WHSFL season, which kicks off in September. For that reason, he said it’s important for players not to wait until the fall to get ready for it.
“It’s really important that they’re coming out and they’re learning their basic skills so when we do the refresher in the fall, we can spend less time doing that and we can spend more time critiquing our techniques and expanding our playbook a little bit more,” he explained.
“Obviously, it’s best to get out there as soon as you can and learn all the basics because if you’re coming out in September, and you’re lining up against a guy who was at spring camp and has been there a couple weeks in August already, you’re going to be at a huge disadvantage.
“The best thing kids can do is show up right away,” he reiterated.
The Muskies have only won twice over the last two seasons, and Canfield believes that on-field futility has kept players away. However, it’s also a catch-22—reasoning that the team won’t improve without a full complement of players.
“It’s really tough,” he admitted.
“I think that the main reason that we’re not getting people out there is because we haven’t experienced a lot of success lately. . . .[But] the reason we’re not experiencing success is because we don’t have the numbers.”
However, the junior Muskie program, headed by Bob Swing and Greg Allan, should be a boon for Fort High’s fortunes as players are getting involved in the game at a younger age, and Canfield hopes that involvement will continue right through high school.
“I think that the junior program is going to be a huge benefit to us because we have a handful of guys coming up from the junior program,” he noted.
“Yeah, they’re going to be inexperienced, they’re going to be in Grade 9, but at least they’ve got that interest early on.
“There’s lots of knowledge in that junior program, and if we can work together, I think it’s going to be a huge benefit to everyone,” Canfield concluded.