Coach Dan Dominico wasted no time before delivering a first message to his defending city champion Northern Red Knights this week.
It was given on a freshly renovated artificial turf field at the north Toronto campus, on a blistering 32 degree day, but no one was distracted.
“If you are a rookie this year, you will always be a rookie at practice,” he said in front of more than 30 grade 11s and 12s, kneeling in a huddle.
“But we are a team on game day. There are no rookies or veterans on game days.”
Many players who were on the junior team last year are now rookies on the senior team. Robbie Marks knows how they feel.
Marks, who was the Red Knights’ senior rookie quarterback in 2011 is back at the helm for 2012.
“This is my hobby and I come out everyday after school for two-and-a-half to three hours [practice] and I feel a lot of pride towards this school, especially playing football with all these guys,” he said.
The 17-year-old is entering his last year of high school and says his goal is to win the 2012 Metro Bowl.
“A lot of hard work and long hours on the field will help us get to it,” Marks said outside the school a day before practice before picking up his football equipment. “We have to try to focus on stepping up our game from where we were before [after winning the City Championship].”
The Red Knights finished second in the South/West Tier 1 Region with a 4-1 record last season. Their only loss was to Central Tech Blues, 18-7.
Northern then went on to defeat Agincourt 14-11 in the city final, but lost 20-17 to Whitby Donald Wilson in the semi-finals at the Metro Bowl in November.
“It was a very close game but we were against such a good school,” said Dominico, who was a former student at Northern is now a retired geography teacher.
Success is something the Red Knights are used to.
The school has won five city titles in the past 10 years and took two Metro Bowls in 1990 and 1994.
Northern has also contended for the Metro Bowl 11 times since the competition was introduced in 1982, first under legendary coach Clarke Pulford, and then under Dominico, who has built his own legacy.
Dominico is an admirer of his current quarterback, a student taking three math courses along with business and English, especially the way he stepped in as a rookie starter.
“[Quarterback] is a difficult position,” Dominico said. “He [Marks] had difficulty last season but as the season went on he got a little bit more acclimatized to what we wanted him to do and he matured.”
In grade 11, Marks had to be the leader for players older than him as well.
“When I was quarterback last year there were grade 12s and fifth years so it was sometimes hard to motivate and lead the team,” he said.
Things obviously worked out.
Regular season games in high school football get underway in late September.