The Nanaimo District Secondary School Islanders hit the field this week for two-a-day practice sessions in an effort to get the team ready for action in September.
A quick glance across the thin ranks of athletes that showed up for practice on Thursday evening made one thing instantly clear: the 2013 Islanders are a small team, individually and as a group.
But while that may be true at this point of the year - weeks before athletes committed to summertime jobs swell the ranks of their B.C. Highschool Football AA Varsity squads - the team's coach and his veteran players are less than worried.
"We're not very big at all," said head coach Nate Stevenson. "We have, gosh, maybe one guy over 200 pounds on the offensive line. .. But we're quick. We're going to try and use that to our advantage."
Early indications are the AA Varsity team will have a roster that hovers around the low to mid-20s range. The Junior Varsity Islanders will be closer to 20. Last year the team returned to AA Varsity play after a perfect regular season in 2011 at the Tier II level.
After they began the year with a roster of 21, the Islanders finished 1-5-0, a win ahead of last place in the Western AA Conference.
But last year's team was also a roughed up one, with three of the team's four captains being sidelined with injury.
Those Grade 12 guys who may have helped the team claw its way into a post-season berth have now graduated, so this year's team will turn to a host of young, eager and fresh-faced talents.
Fortunately for this year's AA Islanders, last year's Junior Varsity team had a rather successful year. Many of the team's new faces this year are JV talents who pushed their way to the provincial quarterfinals last year.
The team's greatest assets, says Stevenson, are speed and athleticism rather than brute strength. If the group succeeds in its mission to play a cerebral game, the results could be surprising.
"We won't smashmouth guys but we're gonna hit - bang," he said. "Get our three yards in quick chunks, try to use some misdirection and put defenders in conflict with their rules and let our athleticism work it, rather than just our brawn."
Players to watch this year include Brett Ablitt, who returns in his role as a potent wide receiver for the team.
It is hoped that linebacker Brendan Mattes will bring some veteran leadership and knowledge of the AA Varsity game to the team.
Key talents recruited from last year's JV team that will need to perform to ensure the Islanders see a successful campaign include slot/defensive back Malik Besseghieur and runningback Jeremie Cheng.
This year's quarterback is also a JV alumnus - Grade 11 thrower Cole McGarvey will be front and centre in a speedy, cerebral offence.
Veteran linebacker McIntyre Barrera, 17, knows he will play a role in keeping the team motivated.
"We're a small team but we're also a fit team and a quick team," he said. "We can do a hurry-up offence and that gives us a lot of opportunities, opens a lot of doors."
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