Midget spring league football brings out the best in football players from other teams who are united together with the St. Albert Storm.
The winning lineup of Grade 9, 10 and 11 student athletes are present or future Bellerose Bulldogs, Paul Kane Blues, St. Albert High Skyhawks and Sturgeon Spirits committed to the Storm cause.
“It’s a lot of fun. You get people from each school. Everyone is awesome,” said centre Tanner de Champlain, a Grade 11 Bulldog and second-year Storm player.
“It’s a little bit of everything playing Storm football. You get whole new players and you get lots of experienced players,” de Champlain added. “It’s great to be able to play with people that you might go against and old friends you’ve known for a while that maybe you haven’t played with recently.
“It’s also nice development if you’re in Grade 9 going into high school and it’s just lots of fun when you’re already in high school.”
The midget division was established in 2005 by the Capital District Minor Football Association and the Storm is one of seven teams playing a six-game schedule that kicked off March 30 in Lacombe and ends with the May 11-12 playoffs.
“You get to go against pretty much everyone from any school in the area, Edmonton included, and from Lloyd and Fort Mac, too. Everywhere, really. It’s great,” de Champlain said.
Once the midget league wraps up, it’s a seamless transition for the players entering their high school spring camps.
“Rather than just not having anything to do other than workouts, we’ve got this football program and the workouts together so it helps us. It’s not like we're coming back for the high school season and having to get back into the mindset, we’re already in the mindset coming into spring camp,” said linebacker Evan Kumka, a Grade 11 Bulldog.
Storm football also gives the Grade 9 bantams the opportunity to experience the next level.
“It’s a great thing for people to come up and be able to play with the high school players. It gives them a jump-start right into the league. It's like an extra booster,” Kumka said.
Rivals also put past grudges aside for the good of the team.
“With all the schools coming together it’s a great thing because you make new friends and it creates a new competitive drive if you have to play them later in your high school season,” said Kumka, a returnee from the 5-1 (178 PF/86 PA) Storm as the top defensive team in 2018.
“We’ve got some good rookies coming into this season from bantam and people who haven’t played Storm that have played high school but now are coming into their first year of Storm,” Kumka said. “It’s great because now we can put up a fight against Lloyd.”
The Storm’s only loss last year was 36-16 to the Lloydminster Red Dogs, undefeated the last three years.
The teams clash April 27 at 4:30 p.m. at Clarke Stadium.
The only game for the Red Dogs so far was 25-0 against the Edmonton Chargers (0-2) April 4 in Sherwood Park while the Storm posted wins of 14-7 against the Fort McMurray Ravens (0-2) and 30-14 against the Edmonton Seahawks (1-1) last weekend at Clarke Stadium.
Today at 5 p.m. the Storm huddles up against the Battle River Shock (2-0) in Lacombe.
“We’ve watched film and checked how they kind of play so we’ll go in and adjust to how they play and hopefully it’s a good game,” said de Champlain, 16, who missed the Seahawks’ game because of the Football Alberta U18 and U17 selection camps in Calgary.
“It was lots of fun but tough. It was a whole weekend of just pain and being sore,” said the six-foot, 270-pound offensive lineman.
The Storm’s defence rose to the challenge against the Seahawks as Kumka’s 62-yard pick-six and Ewan Vanderheide’s 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown turned a 14-12 deficit at halftime into a 24-14 lead before the third quarter ended.
“We played great. Our offence came to play and our defence especially. We scored two touchdowns defensively which really showed that our defence is a threat and (the Seahawks) can’t do whatever they want with us,” Kumka said.
The Storm opened the scoring with Zach Froese’s one-yard TD and the Seahawks replied with converted TDs on runs of seven and 34 yards to lead 14-6 in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Froese hooked up with Jakob Kikkert for a 33-yard scoring strike.
Kumka, 16, put the Storm ahead to stay with his interception return to hit pay dirt.
“We were lining up in our basic defence and I watched film pre-game so I noticed they ran a screen that was pretty predictable so I kind of cheated the play. I saw the ball come right to me and I caught it and ran it down the field,” said Kumka, who looked like he was shot out of cannon while blazing a trail down the field. "Right after I caught the ball, I zoned out and just ran straight.
“It felt great, especially how we were down by two, just to get us back in the game.”
The next defensive score was Vanderheide muscling the pigskin away from a Seahawk before embarking on the long journey into the end zone.
The TD was Vanderheide’s third of the season after rolling up 218 yards on 18 carries for majors of 28 and six yards in the second half against the Ravens.
Max Taylor’s five-yard TD reception from Froese sealed the deal in the fourth quarter.
The Storm were also unsuccessful on five conversion plays – three passes and two runs.
Froese finished 12-for-19 passing for 151 yards and one interception.
Taylor snagged five passes for 63 yards and Jacob King and Will Campbell both caught three passes for 37 and 18 yards, respectively.
Froese also gained 46 yards on 11 runs, Hunter Hoffman picked up 26 yards on three carries and Vanderheide added 24 yards on three handoffs.
Jared Granoski was a tackling machine with 12 while Kumka added six and Kolby Phillips was credited with five stops.