Muskies ready for some football

The Muskie football team kicks off another season of hard-hitting gridiron action this Friday afternoon (Sept. 8) when they host the Kildonan East Eagles at Fort High.
Game time is 3 p.m.
The black-and-gold are a confident bunch heading into the season as they look to improve upon last year’s 1-4-1 record in the Winnipeg High School Football League.
Head coach Bob Swing likes what he’s seen in training camp the past two weeks, and is very optimistic about the Muskies’ chances for success.
“If we play up to our capabilities, I’m not worried about the score and I don’t think anyone in the community will be worried about the score,” he said at yesterday’s practice.
“They [the Muskies] are a pretty talented group. They just have to work together and execute their responsibilities,” he added.
One of the main reasons for Swing’s optimism lies in the numbers game. For the first time in a while, Fort High has enough players on the roster so they can start a full team on both offence and defence.
“The most positive thing is we have such depth that, for the first time in probably the last five years, we don’t have to have guys start both ways,” Swing said.
“We have 12 ‘O’ and 12 ‘D’ starters, which is really going to help us increase the pace of practice and get better reps there.
“We’re not worried about someone tiring out.”
The other reason for Swing’s optimism is the attitude displayed by his players during a four-team scrimmage last week at Tec Voc in Winnipeg.
“They were physical. They didn’t cower. They were aggressive,” he said of his team’s performance. “All positives.”
While the Muskies definitely have some areas they need to improve upon in practice this week before the Kildonan East game (namely blocking, tackling, and protecting the ball), Swing was pleased with the shape the team is taking.
“We’ll be a very physical team, mentally tough, and disciplined,” he pledged.
“We’re not going to get too upset when we have a bad thing go against us and we’re not going to get too elated when we have good things happen to us.
“We’re going to keep an even keel and worry about the next play, play hard, and to the whistle, which is a trademark of Fort Frances teams,” Swing added.
The Muskies will need to play tough this Friday against a quality Kildonan East team.
While the Eagles are rookies to the WHSFL, they are by no means an inexperienced football team.
“It’s a new team in the league, but it’s a community-based program that has been playing football for a long time,” Swing noted. “I would expect them to be a well-coached football team that’s pretty disciplined.”
< *c>Defence
The Muskies were strong on the defensive side of the ball last season, surrendering just 96 points over the course of their six games—a very respectable 16 point per game average.
Defensive co-ordinator Lou Gauthier believes he can replicate last year’s performance given the talent he has in camp.
“We tend to have a good set of defensive linemen that get off the ball real quick and they tend to put a lot of pressure in the front,” he said. “Our linebackers fill in [the gaps].
“It’s a whole team effort. We practice gang tackling and that’s what we do [on game day],” he added.
If there is one area for concern for Gauthier heading into Friday’s season opener, it’s his young cornerbacks.
“We just have a little bit of work left to do on our corners,” he admitted. “At the exhibition game last Thursday, we had a couple of rookies that turned the wrong way but like I say, they’re rookies.
“Practice will hopefully get them turning the right direction.”
< *c>Offence
Last season was a struggle for the black-and-gold, though, when it came to scoring touchdowns on offence. They finished the season with a meagre 36 points for—an average of just six points per game.
With such an anemic offensive output, one might think wholesale changes were in store for this season.
But offensive co-ordinator Shane Beckett believes the system will work more efficiently this year now that several of the players have had a chance to play in it.
“We haven’t changed anything so much as the young kids are now starting to learn,” he said.
“The last two games of last year, [running back Terry] Carmody really started to figure out how to run north and south, and that really helped us move the football, and [quarterback] Blake [Wepruk] gained confidence under centre.
“So systems-wise, personnel-wise, we have some changes but the playbook is pretty much the same. It’s just a matter of executing a little bit better.”
In addition to having returning players in place at the quarterback and running back positions, Beckett believes some new-found speed at the receiver position could have a big impact.
“We’re a grinder offence, but we do have some speed this year at receiver so that’s going to keep people guessing,” he said. “We go deep once and they’ll have to respect that, as well.”
< *c>Special teams
Head coaches often point to special teams’ play as the single most important aspect of a game. Good special teams can win a game while poor play almost always will result in a defeat.
Muskies’ special team coach Vince Gouin was pleased with the team’s performance last week in Winnipeg despite several mistakes.
“Our breakdowns weren’t bad,” he said. “With the special teams, our kick-off returns were our biggest hurdle and I think we’ve cleared it all up.
“It’s mental mistakes,” Gouin added. “Coming back, turning the wrong way and it puts them out of position.”
Gouin believes that with a few more practices under their belts, the black-and-gold’s specialty teams will be fine.
“I think we’ll do fairly well,” he said. “As long as they learn the basics and they play within their means, they’re going to do well. They won’t give up big plays.”