Squad pleased with spring tryout numbers

It’s an annual affair, but the Muskie football team’s spring practices still turn the heads of drivers on McIrvine Road as they passed Fort High’s football field the past couple of weeks.
A half-dozen practices were held, but were they practices or tryouts for a season that doesn’t get started until September?
“Every practice we had this spring was a tryout and they will all be tryouts until our exhibition game on Sept. 1,” said Bob Swing, entering his 10th year as head coach of the Muskie football team.
The Muskies averaged about 35 players per session and that’s good news for a program that’s had trouble trying to bulk up its roster.
“From the coaching standpoint, we were very happy with what we saw,” said long-time coach Greg Allan, who is working with the defensive secondary.
“There was a lot of good talent out there and a lot of kids have gone to another level, which is certainly an asset to the program,” Allan added.
Fourth-year assistant coach Tony Geense agreed.
“We had really good numbers, and we were really encouraged from what we saw,” said Geense, who is the lineman coach and noted the core group of his line is coming back.
One of the most encouraging things is it looks like the team will be close to fielding a full squad and thus have practices with a full offence and defence—something the team has not been able to do for quite some time.
Their Winnipeg opponents have squads of around 50 players, which gives them the luxury of depth and options. On the other hand, the black-and-gold were able to play a hard first half in most games, then would run out of gas come the fourth quarter.
Part of the reason for the low numbers was the fact Fort High went 1-23 over the past three regular seasons.
“Who wants to play for the Muskies? Who wants to play for a team that always gets their butts whipped?” Geense said, citing the reason why students were reluctant to join the team.
When the Muskies were winning championship after championship in the old NorWOSSA league, they had the luxury of depth because students wanted to be part of the winning team.’
But when they switched to the WHSFL a few years ago and started losing after going 4-4 in their inaugural campaign, they also started losing players.
“I remember kids mocking players that were waiting for buses and just laughing at them,” Geense recalled. “But I told our players that, ‘He may yap at you, but he doesn’t have the courage to put on the pads and step on the field.’”
So why should students come out for the team?
“For the experience,” replied Swing.
“We coach these kids football, but we try to prepare them for what’s in store for things later on in life,” noted Allan.
“We offer a sense of being. A sense of belonging to something,” added Geense.
“It’s going to be a quality, life-altering experience and at the same time, you’re going to learn how to play a sport,” added Swing.
“You’re going to enjoy the teamwork. You’re going to learn to work hard,” he remarked. “You’re going to get the skills that you’re going to need to be successful in life.”
But there’s one thing that’s a requirement by the Muskie program that also has affected its numbers.
“You’re going to be forced to go to school,” Swing said. “And honestly, I think that’s why our numbers are down because people know we have an expectation of our players.”
Allan said providing that kind of structure to a student-athlete to help them over overcome obstacles can be extended for when they enter the real world.
“We provide a structure for kids and we provide discipline,” he explained. “For a lot of these kids . . . no matter what they decide to do, they can learn from the football program about things like discipline and commitment, and then apply those to life.
“We coach these kids football, but we try to prepare them for what’s in store for things later on in life,” Allan added.
And, of course, one of the biggest appeals of joining the Muskies is that a student can do things on the gridiron that would put them in jail if they were to act in such a way on the street.
“So here you go. You get an hour of organized assault, and have fun doing it,” said Geense.
“And at the end of the game, [you] shake hands with the other team and congratulate each other on a good game and then go back to society and be normal again,” added Geense, who also is the pastor at Bethel Baptist Church here.
Amen to that.