The high school football season has officially kicked off for the Paul Kane Blues and Sturgeon Spirits.
The two teams took to the field on Saturday, Aug. 28, as part of an exhibition jamboree at the Fuhr Sports Park in Spruce Grove. Cold Lake and Ardrossan also had teams represented.
It was a modest event that saw each team play three, 50-minute half-field games against each other. Rather than doing traditional scoring, the games were scored by the number of touchdowns each team got.
Spirits head coach, Chad Hill, said it was encouraging to see the kids back on the field for the first time in a long time.
“We haven’t played since 2019 and we have a handful of players left from that team and they were rookie Grade 10s [back then],” said Hill. “It’s really exciting to be back on the field and able to play football again and I just hope we can complete a season safely.”
It was a good day for the Spirits. They are preparing to play Tier 3 football in the regular season and were able to take home a tight victory over a strong Tier 2 Paul Kane team. Hill said while he saw some nerves in their first game against Cold Lake, the team got better as they settled in.
“I saw lots of improvement as the day went on,” said Hill. “The first game was a little bit shaky, maybe getting the jitters out, so I wasn’t overly impressed with how we opened the day, but I thought we got better and better as the day went on, so I told the boys that I thought it was a great day and now I’m pumped to get going with the season.”
That feeling was echoed by the players. Spirits slot back Stefan Cloutier said the event helped re-establish that bond between teammates.
“It feels good to play with the guys, get that momentum going, and really play as a team,” said Cloutier. “We’re a brotherhood. That’s how I feel about our team.”
Spirits running back Rylan Seewalt said he thinks they have what it takes to make some noise in their division this year.
“Today was pretty good, lots of learning got done I think,” said Seewalt. “I think we are going to put up a pretty good fight. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Paul Kane Blues are also feeling optimistic about their odds heading into the regular season. Coach Rob Strecker said he was impressed with how his team performed in their first game situations.
“We were really excited with what we saw out there with a number of our guys,” said Strecker. “We’ve had really good athletes in the past, but the football IQ has been lagging a bit ... this year our football IQ is pretty high.”
Strecker said getting the kids back out on the field isn’t just a positive for the kids, but the coaches as well.
“It’s definitely put a jump back in my step,” said Strecker. “I know my wife is happy because now I’m not so grumpy around the house.”
The Blues put a focus on getting everybody into each game, including some newcomers to the sport. While they are projected to be a strong Tier 2 team come the regular season, they underwent a few growing pains during the jamboree.
They played to a tie against Ardrossan in their first game of the day, fell to Sturgeon, but then ended off the day strong with a win over Cold Lake.
Blues linebacker Wyatt Horchuk thought the team performed well.
“I think we performed very well considering it’s been a year-and-a-half since everybody has been going,” said Horchuk. “We’re still kind of shaking off the rust but I think we got a good team this year.”
Quarterback William Mah said he thinks this team has what it takes to capture a championship.
“Coach sets the standard pretty high, he’s looking at provincials and we are defending champs,” said Mah. “Hopefully we can [win it all] again.”
The Blues will continue their exhibition season with a game against Holy Rosary this Friday, Sept. 3 at Larry Olexiuk Field. The Sturgeon Spirits, on the other hand, will be back in action on Sept. 9 with a game against St. Albert again at Larry Olexiuk Field.