Lions prepare to defend Wheatland title
The St. Paul Lions returned to the gridiron last Friday afternoon, ready to defend the title of Wheatland Football League champions in the upcoming season.
“You’ve got a bit of a target on your back when you’re the defending champion, and teams want to see how they compare to us, and we want to play with the pride of being a defending champion, but we’re going to have fun. We’re not going to worry about what happens,” said Lions coach Todd Tanasichuk. “We know that we’re going to be a good football team, and we certainly have expectations, but they’ve got to play loose . . . and take one game at a time.”
The 2013 season will kick off for the Lions in Lloydminster on Aug. 30 as they take on the Barons, a team bent on revenge after falling 75-23 to St. Paul last year.
“They’re going to be looking for revenge and I sense that they’ve got a bit of animosity towards us over that game,” said Tanasichuk, adding that the Barons are a consistently strong team. “I would be willing to bet that no Wheatland team has ever beaten the Lloyd Barons that way, so they’re going to be ready, they’re going to be hungry to play us and they’re going to want revenge.”
The team will have a different, more balanced look this season as 15 Grade 12 players will take to the roster, but Tanasichuk added that with the loss of Wheatland Football League offensive MVP Jason Jubinville, a number of teams in the league are likely to take the Lions lightly heading into the season.
“I can understand why anyone would think that. Jason was pretty phenomenal, and the few Grade 12s that we did have last year were all very good football players, but how do I feel about it? If that’s really their perspective, honestly it fires me up, and I think it will fire our boys up,” he said. “We all feel that we contributed as players and as coaches to our win last year, we weren’t just a few guys.”
Brendan McKay will step back into his role as quarterback for the third straight season, and Tanasichuk said the Grade 12 student has grown in his position since he assumed the starting role in Grade 10, and he just keeps getting better.
“We were so impressed with him at the jamboree (in June) . . . we were astounded. Not that we were surprised, but he could be one of the best players in the league this year,” said Tanasichuk, adding that McKay’s pocket presence, patience, leadership and decision-making will be definite factors this season.
The season will also feature another night game under the lights against the Cold Lake Royals, the Lions perennial rivals, on Sept. 27.
“I know they feel like they’ve got a really strong team this year too. It’s so much fun, it’s really what gets the juices flowing, for me anyhow, is thinking about playing Cold Lake, and I know it’s the same over there,” said Tanasichuk, adding that the rivalry with the Royals just keeps getting better. “As they years go by it just gets bigger and more intense, and it sure is fun. We’ve got a deep respect for them and we know they’re going to be good.”
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