Like a painter with a blank canvas, Bryan Brandford and his coaching staff have to apply the right brush strokes in order to make something out of nothing.
Lucky for the head coach of the Alberta U-18 football team, he has some high quality paint to work with.
The Okotoks junior high school principal started with 400 players in selection camps around the province and that number has been pared down to 40 who were at the recent mini-camp held at Notre Dame High School last weekend where the goal was simple.
“What we do is insert all our offence, defense and special teams in preparation for when we go to London, Ontario in July,” Brandford explained, referring to the eight-team tournament at the University of Western Ontario.
Brandford says the biggest challenge facing his staff, which includes Hunting Hills head coach Kyle Sedgewick, is building a team from players from so many programs that have different football terminology for the most part.
“The terminology, we just call it the Team Alberta way,” he chuckled. “So they have to re-learn everything, all the language and it’s just football, it’s not that complicated.”
Sixteen-year-old Tyler Ledwos is one of the players headed to Ontario and he says the game at this level is very different in some areas than the brand he sees in the Central Alberta high school league he toils in.
“The speed of everything is just so much faster, the competiveness. Everything is at a whole new level,” pointed out the H.J. Cody Lakers receiver.
Ledwos says for him the upside is getting plenty of help from coaches and being able to practice with players from all around the province.
“You can just get a little from each player and get better from that.”
The defensive playbook isn’t all that thick says Brandford, but the special teams players and the offence has some reading to do.
“But the communication is easy, the adjustments are easy so it’s real easy for the kids to pick up,” said Brandford.
It also doesn’t hurt that the coaches are dealing with players who have high football IQ’s, so getting everyone on the same page in so few practices is a bit easier to manage but there is still a lot to cram into a short period of time.
“In their high school program, all the stuff we’re putting in this weekend would be a season’s worth,” Brandford explained, adding a lot of what is being done was already covered in some depth at the previous camps.
Ledwos says he’s eager to soak up all that he can from this experience and he hopes to catch the eye of a few scouts as football at the next level after high school is part of his game plan. But he admits there’s nothing further at this point.
“I’m not sure, hopefully something with football still but I guess time will tell.”
Team Alberta, which is ranked number two behind powerhouse Quebec, plays its first game against Nova Scotia in the elimination style tournament which has them playing three games in just a couple of weeks.
“If you win every game you end up in the championship game. If you lose the first game you don’t have a chance at the championship,” Brandford said.
So the team building continues until that first game and the coach feels good about what is taking shape on this canvas.
“Football is football and all they have to do is learn to do it the Alberta way.”