The Brantford Collegiate Institute Mustangs believe they can compete in the senior high school football circuit this season thanks to an influx of young blood.
“We could end up having up to 10 rookie starters from Grade 11,” coach Dave Giancola said. “We are returning only seven or eight extra-year seniors – the third-year guys – so the rookies will be a big part of our team.”
The senior Mustangs finished 1-4 last season before being bounced in the playoffs by the eventual champion Assumption College Lions.
But the junior Mustangs had a phenomenal season.
While they eventually lost to the Lions in the junior championship game, the Mustangs enjoyed some dominating performances.
In fact, the team was 4-0 through the first four weeks of the season, with 212 points scored and only six points scored against.
Many former junior players will now move up to the senior ranks and compete for a starting spot against their older peers.
Giancola has set up a pair of travel games so the team can face some serious competition ahead of the season.
Because the Paris District High School Panthers are still waiting for the seeds they planted in junior football to produce a senior team, the senior Mustangs get a bye in Week 1 and don’t play in the Brant high school league until Sept. 21.
Giancola took the team to Brampton for a game last Friday and is taking the team to North York this Friday to tune up for the season.
“We’ll be using those games to help decide our starters,” Giancola said. “We’ll see if some of the younger guys can usurp a starting role.”
The season got off to a sombre start for the team, though, as an opposing player from St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton collapsed on the field with nine minutes remaining in the game last Friday.
Seventeen-year-old Gene Odulio was rushed to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, where he remained until he died on Sunday.
“There was no discernible incident, no triggering incident during the game,” said Bruce Campbell, manager of communications with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board. “That’s not to say he didn’t get hit during the game, but nothing you could point to (as the cause).”
Giancola said the Mustangs’ thoughts and prayers are with the family, teammates and coaches at St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Mustangs will travel to North York this Friday to play Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in their second of two exhibition games.
The team expects to have a strong defence and improved special teams compared to last season.
Playing three-down football, special teams tend to play a big role in the high school league.
“I looked at things last year and realized our special teams needed to be much better,” Giancola said. “I personally took on that job and we really have some talented athletes on special teams.”
Giancola also expects the normalcy of life at BCI to help improve his team’s result on the field.
The school is into its second year post-renovations.
“Those final-year players we have are the last remnant of the 7 a.m. or 9 p.m. practices and the struggles we faced to get 35 kids onto the field,” Giancola said. “It’s huge to have a normal school day again.”
Giancola said the team’s goal will be to use new talent effectively and push further into the playoffs this season.
The senior Mustangs start their season in Week 2 with a game against the two-time defending champion Lions on Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre field.
The junior team takes on the PDHS Panthers in Week 1 on Saturday in Paris at 11 a.m.
– With files from the Toronto Star