The Grade 12 players on the Belmont Bulldogs senior varsity football team took it upon themselves to meet before their first practice to talk about their goals for the 2016 season.
Having endured a winless season playing in the toughest high school football conference in the province, they wanted to make sure they were all on the same page.
A couple things are clear for senior Dontae Bull, a highly touted offensive lineman who also plays defensive line.
“We want to win a home playoff game in Victoria,” he said. “We have to go either 4-2 (to be) guaranteed or 3-3 (to make playoffs), and one of our goals is to beat Mount Doug.”
Sitting in an empty Belmont gym with three of his seniors, head coach Alexis Sanschagrin points to various signs of a turnaround in this, the 10th year of Bulldogs football.
Firstly, the combined senior and junior varsity roster strength is almost 60 players – that’s 15 to 20 more than last season, although about average for similar-sized schools in the division. Nonetheless, it puts the Bulldogs on a level playing field, he said, and means less players will be playing the full game on both sides of the ball.
Then there’s Sanschagrin’s belief that amongst the nine Grade 12s in the program, six have a legitimate shot at playing post-secondary football if they continue to progress this season.
“It’s something that’s pretty exciting, because six is a big number anywhere you are in the province. It’s very rare to have that many guys who are quality football players, dedicated football players have these kinds of opportunities in front of them.”
Bull, a big (6-7, 275 pounds) and quick lineman who is expected to field multiple offers to play college or university ball, is among those individuals. And his desire to beat Mount Doug does not come simply from a crosstown rivalry.
The vaunted Rams remain the benchmark program for now, admitted Sanschagrin.
“They’re always well coached, they’re a good program, they’re successful,” he said. “They’re a program that shows their kids are confident and they expect to win, and they’re going to be well-prepared. So, until proven otherwise, they’re (the team to beat) … They’ve earned our respect and we know they’re going to be good.”
Exhibition game against Seattle team will be good test
The Bulldogs are currently in the middle of two-a-day workouts at Goudy Field in preparation for the season and this Saturday’s home exhibition game against the Seattle Prep Panthers. So far, Bull and teammates Darien Attridge, a safety/receiver; and Brett Milligan, an all-rounder who backs up No. 1 quarterback Darian Jules and can play running back, receiver and line, like what they’re seeing so far.
Among other things, the Bulldogs’ running game is improved, they agree, and the improved offensive line is expected to give the quarterbacks more time to throw when needed.
Milligan also sees a broader change happening.
“I think just on the whole the team is a lot more confident and there’s just a lot less holes throughout all the positions. And now we have more of a winning mentality,” he said. Players had few expectations going into games last year, he added, but with more experience under their belt, they’re thinking more about winning and making a push for a playoff spot.
This season offers a chance for the Bulldogs to make a statement in various ways, added Attridge.
“For me it’s a year to show who we are and to put our team and our school on the map,” he said. “We just want to play and prove that we’re a school worth being at and worth playing for.”
“I just want our name to be in B.C. High School Football, like I want people to go ‘oh, we’ve got Belmont next week, that’s going to be a tough game,’” he said. As for support for the team within the school, he noted that creating a winning mentality may spread to other students.
“This is a hockey school, it always has been, and that’s one of the reasons we don’t end up getting a lot of the players we see in the halls, guys who could make a big difference on our team,” Milligan said.
Bull rephrased the goals the seniors came up with, saying the players are expecting more this season following the “building year” that was 2015.
“I want people to know this is not the same team as they saw last year,” he said. “People showed up to our first couple games, they saw we were losing and stopped showing up. It’s going to be different this year.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is at 1 p.m. at Westhills Stadium. Visit belmontfootball.com for more information.
The Belmont Bulldogs open their 2016 exhibition football season this Saturday at Westhills Stadium against the Seattle Prep Panthers. Game time is 1 p.m.
Other upcoming home games (all at Goudy Field):
Sept. 16 — Exhibition vs. Ballenas, junior varsity and varsity
Sept. 22 — JV reg. season vs Lord Tweedsmuir
Oct. 13 – JV vs. Terry Fox
Oct. 14 — Varsity vs. Carson Graham
Oct. 21 — JV and varsity vs Notre Dame
Oct. 28 — JV and varsity vs. New Westminster
Nov. 5 — JV vs. Mount Boucherie