During a torrential downpour Tuesday afternoon most students at Northern Secondary School were happy to get their final period off for a teacher’s staff meeting.
But for more than 100 young men it was no day off.
The Northern Red Knights football teams have continually been one of the city’s best senior and junior squads and they certainly don’t cancel practice for heavy rain.
Not when their goal of a TDSSAA title and Metro Bowl championship, respectively, remains intact.
“We expect the same thing every year. We expect to win a championship, that’s what we always shoot for and that’s what our goal is and I think we have a reasonable chance,” said head coach Dan Domenico, standing under a parking structure.
“I think if we stay healthy and we have some key players play up to their capability, then I think we’ve got a good a chance as anybody.”
The Red Knights’ 2014 season had a disappointing ending. After a 5-0 regular season and a 14-0 quarter-final victory against East York Collegiate, Northern lost its semifinal matchup to eventual champion Richview Collegiate, 21-0, on a snowy day in November.
But Domenico’s goal for this year will more challenging considering his roster full of new faces.
“This year, I‘ve got practically all brand new receivers,” said Domenico. “Along the defensive line we’ve lost several people and a couple of linebackers.
“I only have one returning offensive lineman, (Mauricio Mendez-Percivale) so we’ll rely on him for some stability there, but that’s pretty normal with senior teams now.
“There’s an awful lot of turnover.”
Replacing graduating players isn’t the only issue facing Domenico’s squad.
“Our best defensive back from last season (Ronan MacPhail-Silver), who is still eligible this year, decided to concentrate on his studies this year,” said Domenico.
“I have a running back returning Daniel Adeboboye, who was my MVP last year, but he isn’t going to be able to play in the playoffs because he’s an alternative school player.”
Alternative school players are graduated students who remain eligible to play during the regular season while they attend school to upgrade marks in an attempt to qualify for post-secondary education, but remain ineligible for playoffs.
Quarterback biggest hole
The biggest hole may be at quarterback. Marcus Reeb, last year’s junior varsity star and expected 2015 starter, transferred to a prep school in New York, leaving the Red Knights with no experienced signal callers.
— Top Prospects Canada (@TopProspectsCDN) December 23, 2013
Teshaun Tran, who is playing his first season of tackle football, will start for the Red Knights this season
With all 10 teams in the Toronto Tier 1 division getting the chance to make the playoffs, Domenico is relying on his offence to use their five-game regular season to work out the kinks by the time November football rolls around.
“We’re working the other way around,” said Domenico. “We’re hoping that by the time we get to the playoffs we’ll be a better team, but it’s going to take us a few games to get our feet and figure out what we’re doing.”
On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Tom Gretes knows that his group is going to be heavily counted on, especially early in the season.
“We’re going to have to rely on our defence and special teams until our offence gets up to speed, especially our young quarterback and a young line,” said Gretes. “We just have to play the way we’ve always played at Northern: tough, quick, consistent, aggressive, get-to-the-ball defence.”
That group will be lead by 6’2″ defensive back and captain Jarrom Ogem Rwot.
“He’s one of the top players in all of Toronto,” said Gretes. “He’s our captian and defensive leader who can cover and make tackles.
“He’s a sideline to sideline player.”
The experienced coaching staff knows their situation isn’t ideal, but they’re looking at the positives.
“The teams that usually do the best are the ones that can return the most starters because they have a little bit of experience,” said Domenico.
“We’ve lost a lot of key positions, but having said that, we had a lot of good juniors, from last year’s championship JV team come up, so that’s going to make us pretty competitive.”
With dozens of years of experience on the Northern Secondary School sidelines, Domenico and Grettis are aware that the season is fill with peeks and valleys.
“We had a decade where we didn’t lose in the regular season and sometimes we lost in the playoffs and sometimes we won the championship,” said Domenico. “It’s just the way it is in high school football.”