A year after Earl Marriott Secondary’s football program failed to field a senior team due to a lack of players, the school’s oldest squad is back on the gridiron as “enthusiastic” as ever, according to the team’s longtime head coach.
The team is young, however, and relatively inexperienced, with just two Grade 12 starters and the rest of the roster filled out with Grade 11s and even a few talented Grade 10 underclassmen, but that hasn’t dulled Michael Mackay-Dunn’s positivity when it comes to his football program this fall.
“We’re young, senior-wise, but on our junior team, we have some strong players and the Grade 8s look promising, so overall, I’m not complaining,” he said.
“With the seniors, we knew it would be this way – about half our players have played a year or less.”
Participation numbers are on the upswing, Mackay-Dunn said, as more and more students are drawn to the football field.
With so many newcomers, it simply puts more pressure on the coaching staff to prepare them, said Mackay-Dunn, who has been head coach of the Mariners’ football program since its inception in 2005.
“We’re starting to attract some really good athletes who’ve never played football before, so our challenge as coaches is to bring up their football IQ to a level where they can perform without thinking – where they can execute without having to think about what they have to do out there, because once you have to think, you’re a step behind on the play.
“But it’s great to see so many of them coming out and getting involved. It’s a challenge, but it’s going to be good.”
For Mackay-Dunn himself, that coaching challenge is doubled this year, as he is coaching both the senior and junior squads; last year’s junior coach, teacher Scott Martens, switched schools to be closer to his home in Delta.
“It hasn’t been too bad. I still get a day off now and then,” he joked.
One added bonus of the new coaching situation, he pointed out, is that both teams learn the same system, same plays and also practice together, which should make for an easier adjustment when the juniors eventually join the senior team.
“It lessens the learning curve. In fact, there shouldn’t even be one,” Mackay-Dunn said.
As well, the program has been aided this fall by one of B.C.’s best, most experienced coaches – Bill Haddow, formerly of Richmond’s Hugh Boyd Trojans. Haddow, who hung up his head-coaching whistle at the conclusion of Hugh Boyd’s season last year, is a Semiahmoo Peninsula resident and longtime friend of Mackay-Dunn’s.
“We go back a long ways, the Haddow brothers – both Bill and Bruce – so it’s great to have another person to bounce ideas off of,” Mackay-Dunn said.
The senior team – playing in the triple-A Pacific Conference – has already jumped into its regular-season schedule, and lost its first game last Friday to W.J. Mouat, and plays again this Friday, 1 p.m. at EMS, against visiting Sardis.
The juniors play Thursday afternoon against Notre Dame, also at home.
Though the Mariners – who won back-to-back double-A titles in 2014 and ‘15 before making the move to the triple-A level – jumped directly into regular-season play last week without any pre-season games as is usually the case, both the senior and junior teams did get in one exhibition tilt south of the border, against Blaine High School.
And though the senior squad lost to the high-powered American squad, Mackay-Dunn was thrilled that the juniors pulled out a 9-6 victory, thanks in part to Cole Parker, whom the veteran coach called “probably the best young kicker in the province.”
“He’s only in Grade 10, but he’s playing for both our teams. In Blaine, he kicked a 35-yard field goal into the wind, and we only won that game 9-6. It was a big kick and he put it right through.”
Wins and losses aside, Mackay-Dunn has repeatedly stressed the need to see improvement from all three Mariner teams, especially at the senior level, because the majority of the roster will be eligible to return next year.
“We just have to stick together, keep our enthusiasm up and keep our willingness to learn,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve, and that goes for us coaches, too.
“What you see on the field is a reflection of the coaching. It’s like a director of a film – something shows up on the screen, and you go, ‘Did I do that?’ We have to coach them right and make sure they know what they’re doing. We’re just going to focus on what we do well, and try to build on those positives.”
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