Back in session: a return to school comes early for football players

By the time students walk through the doors of Pitt Meadows secondary on Tuesday morning to start the 2013-2014 school year...

It’s the school of hard knocks at Pitt Meadows Marauders football practice

By the time students walk through the doors of Pitt Meadows secondary on Tuesday morning to start the 2013-2014 school year, some of their classmates will have been back for two weeks.

They aren’t taking literature or algebra, they are learning about pass protection and blocking schemes. The Marauders football team will hit the ground running this year.

Football is the first sport of the school season, and the programs that want to contend all start preparing for the season in the middle of August. Many do the two-a-day practices that are so popular at the professional level, but Pitt coach Matt Todd gives his kids a bit of a break – they do daily practices of about 135 minutes.

The field is abuzz with activity, with receivers running routes, another group doing tackling drills, and line coach Kyle Kuzek showing his charges how they should be positioned.

Todd said line play is expected to be the strength of the team this year, and with linemen considered the foundation of any good football team, the big and athletic group at Pitt gives the coaching staff reason for optimism.

“We should put up some points this year,” said Todd, who is in his fourth year with the Pitt program, and third year as head coach.

The line is led by Cole White, an athletic 270-pounder who will terrorize opposing quarterbacks this year. Last season, as a Grade 11, he was second on the team with 16 tackles, and also had two sacks in five regular season games.

“His pass rush and run stopping is pretty superb,” smiled Todd.

He has caught the eye of the under-18 provincial team selectors. White is the first player in the history of the double A program to make Team B.C.’s 56-man roster, after a tryout camp of 120 players was cut down. The final roster will be 36 players, and they will take part in the FBU International Games in San Antonio, Texas in January, 2014, as part of the U.S. Army All American Bowl Week.

It doesn’t stop there. Shaq Naicker, Josh Aujla, Jeff Pym and Callum Williamson are all giant young men with impressive mobility for their size.

“For us to do well, we really need them to excel,” said Todd.

Carry the ball behind that line will be running back Brandon Stewart, who scored five touchdowns in five regular season games last year, and put up 368 yards on an impressive average of 5.66 yards per carry.

Stewart is also a standout linebacker, and was among the team leaders in tackles with 17.

Stewart will face some internal competition for carries, as Todd said he has five or six players who will get their shot at running the ball this year.

Todd said it’s no secret Pitt will have a run-heavy offence – most of the championship high school teams are built around their ground attack. But they will still throw the ball on about 30 per cent of their plays, and the guy at the centre of that is quarterback is Jake Schuster, a Grade 11 with right toolbox for the job.

“He’s got a big arm, he’s mobile, and he’s learning lots about being a quarterback.”

Pitt has never won a B.C. championship. They play in the toughest division – double A – stocked with programs that take their football seriously. The six-game season will see a game each against division rivals Abbotsford Collegiate, Robert Bateman, Rick Hansen (both from Abbotsford), Langley, Mission and crosstown Rivals Samuel Robertson Technical.

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