The football program at Ponoka Composite High School is going to be much bigger this fall as the Broncs leave the six-man program in the past and tackle the 12-man game instead.
Head Coach Scott MacGregor said with a school population of around 600 an expanded program was a chance to reach more students.
“The philosophy being that we use football as a tool to get kids to graduate from high school,” said MacGregor.
There is a strong emphasis on character and education within the Ponoka program and MacGregor views football as a good opportunity to talk to the 42 players who have bought into the program about life skills as well as raising their football IQ.
“They notice you’re volunteering your time in the mornings, in the afternoons, after school, at school,” he explained. “They know the extra effort that we put in for them and I think sometimes the life lesson for them they take more to heart.”
Practice for the Broncs gets going at 6:30 a.m. and there is a full contingent of players, even those who are injured, ready to go when the whistle blows to mark the start of practice.
“It definitely separates the people who really, truly want to play football from those who just kind of show up,” MacGregor said of the early morning start to the business of football. “It also cuts down on excuses for not being there like doctor or dentist appointments, other team practices or in some cases work,” said MacGregor, adding it takes a little adjusting of a person’s lifestyle but once you get out there it’s a pretty good start to the day.
One of the players who has bought into the program is lineman Tyler Ermineskin, a graduate of the very successful six-man program.
He isn’t concerned about the jump to 12-man because in his mind football is football and taking on the more established programs like Notre Dame and Lindsay Thurber for example is not weighing on his mind.
“They don’t know how good we are and we don’t know how good they are,” pointed out the 16-year-old.
The coaching staff has been bolstered by two teachers with a football background in Jamie Blinkhorn and Cody Baird who both play senior football with the Central Alberta Buccaneers.
“We’ve got athletes just like any school does, it’s just a matter of putting it on the coaches’ shoulders to get them prepared as possible and as quickly as possible,” said MacGregor.
According to the coach the big shift from six to 12-man is the football smarts the players need to have. “Just the education behind the different positions, your different assignments. It’s definitely not as freewheeling as six-man for sure but I like the fact that with 12-man you can use some of your bigger boys to control some areas of the field.”
For Tyler Ermineskin and some of his teammates who hail from Hobbema, it means a commitment to the program and a way to avoid some of the pitfalls which exist in his community.
“It helps to keep us out of trouble and stay away from all the bad things.”
The coaching staff is excited about the upcoming season with a good core from the six-man team to build on this year and with about 30 players being eligible to play the following season the future looks bright.
But MacGregor admits as far as results in the won/loss column, it’s quite a mountain to climb for his young charges.
“It’s a building process for sure, no question.”
But he does have plenty of eager helpers ready to hammer away in order to make this work.