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1 / 2 LINE DRILL – Players of the Bellerose Bulldogs work out at Wednesday's training camp at Bellerose Composite High School. The season opener for the Bulldogs in the division one Carr conference of the metro Edmonton league is Sept. 6 against the defen

Bulldogs roaring to win

08/24/2019, 9:00am MDT
By Jeff Hansen - St. Albert Gazette

Bellerose high school football team building off last year's 3-4 record

The Bellerose Bulldogs are a year older and wiser with Jason Lafferty as the head instructor.

The first season with Lafferty at the controls ended with three wins in seven games in the division one Carr conference of the metro Edmonton league.

“We’re one year removed from some of those games and we learned a lot,” said Lafferty, the 2018 Metro Athletics Coach of the Year in the Carr. “I made a lot of mistakes last year and I had a lot of self reflection on how I can be better and how that can help the kids.

“I’m just looking forward to having another year with some of these guys.”

The Bulldogs got off to a rocky start with three losses by a combined score of 139-11 before willing their way back into contention with three victories for a playoff berth that led to the 49-14 loss to the Austin O’Brien Crusaders.

“It sucked we got bounced out in the first round playoffs, but overall it was a decent season and it led well into this season,” said Adam Rafat, a Grade 12 slotback.

The template of expectations is in place for Year 2 of the Lafferty era.

“We’re one year into the culture we’re trying to build,” said the Bellerose Composite High School teacher. “The big thing is that they know me and the standards of the program that we’re trying to set. They understand the expectations of myself (and the coaching staff) and they understand what’s expected of them. Last year it was new territory for them.

“Schematically we’ll be better for having that year of just our own systems, but bigger than that is the coaching staff that we’ve put together and their stamp on the program. That’s where we're going to see the difference and that’s the total buy-in from the starter number one person on our program from an ability standpoint right down to the 35th person.”

The turnover cycle of players gives Lafferty reasons to be optimistic.

“I'm already looking at these young Grade 10s we have coming in and there’s some big bodies there that I'm really excited to see how they grow,” Lafferty said. “I’m excited to see how the Grade 10s who came in last year grow like Zach Martyniuk and Caleb Akerley, those kind of guys that played on the senior team last year. They're gifted kids who I'm excited to see where they go.

“At the same time I’m excited to see the Grade 12s and see how they lead this thing."

Lafferty promised no anchors will hold the Bulldogs back and the glass will be half full of players who can do it instead of half empty of those players who can't.

“I told them (Tuesday) it’s not my program. I can’t be the only one caring about this. They have to be able to care about it and show that they are wanting to be here and invest and sacrifice and all those kind of things," said the 2018 U18 Team Alberta assistant coach. "That’s what makes our game great. It's that sacrifice and doing it for the guy beside you."

Rafat is confident the Bulldogs will improve on last year’s performance.

“We have a pretty strong team. We can definitely be a top three team, we just need everyone to show up and put the work in,” said the co-captain.

Jayden Randall, a returnee, and Tristan Olenick, last year’s MVP of the junior Bulldogs, will vie for the starting quarterback position and their main offensive weapons include Jordan Howe and Rafat.

“Our offence is going to be pretty strong. We had two or three starting Grade 12s on our offence last year and the rest were a bunch of Grade 10s and 11s,” said Rafat, the team leader with 23 receptions and 358 receiving yards while scoring two touchdowns. He also also averaged 27.4 yards on 37 punts. “I want to keep making plays for my team and keep working hard and make sure everyone is focused.”

There are no soft opponents in the Carr for the Bulldogs to beat up with the Harry Ainlay Titans, the defending league champions and Alberta Bowl Tier I (school population 1,250-plus) finalists, second-place Salisbury Sabres and Austin O’Brien among the heavy hitters in the eight-team conference.

“It’s not an easy division for sure because there are a lot of tough teams like Ainlay and Sal, those are probably going to be the hardest teams we're going to play this year, but I'm looking forward to the competition. It’s always fun to play high competition level football,” said Rafat, 17, a junior Bulldog in Grade 10.

The Bulldogs face a stiff test in the Sept. 6 league opener against Ainlay at 5 p.m. at Foote Field. Last year in week two Ainlay muzzled the Bulldogs 77-0.

“We’re going into the belly of the beast,” said Lafferty, noting it's up to the Bulldogs to prove they belong with the best. “We just have to battle and have fun doing it. We showed a bit of that in the spring where we were really pleased with the kids' ability to be mentally tough when they were faced with adversity and they don’t back down.”

Lafferty certainly embraced the challenge of replacing Chad Hill, the longtime head coach (2008 to 2017 for the seniors and 2005 to 2014 for the juniors) and Bellerose teacher, and was rewarded with coach of the year honours. Hill, the Carr coach of the year in 2016 and 2017, joined the Sturgeon Spirits to coach the school’s first football team and was followed by basically the entire coaching staff from the 2017 Bellerose team that finished 7-4 while competing in its first Carr final, recorded its first Tier I provincial playdown win and reached the Tier I north final for the first time in team history.

“I really feel that’s a program award,” Lafferty said. “It’s a feather in the school’s cap because Chad won it a few times and it speaks volumes to the administration, the athletic director, the kids and the coaching staff here especially last year and the guys I surround myself with. They are men of integrity, men who want to teach and men who want to grow young men.

“I’m certainly humbled by the nomination and receiving the award.”

THIRD DOWN: Today at 1:45 p.m. the Bulldogs host the LCI Rams of Lethbridge in an exhibition/jamboree style format at Larry Olexiuk Field.

Friday the Bulldogs huddle up against the visiting Notre Dame Pride of Red Deer, the Tier Isouth finalists, at 6 p.m.

The first league game at home is Sept. 13 against the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds at 7:30 p.m.

A pair of females were among the Bulldogs at training camp this week competing for playing time on the junior and senior teams.

Mackenzie Enger, the 2018 Football Alberta Novice Coach of the Year Award recipient with the St. Alberta Minor Football Association, is the new head coach of the junior Bulldogs, the only high school junior team in St. Albert. The Paul Kane Blues two years ago and the St. Albert High Skyhawks in 2014 ceased operations of their junior teams due to a lack of players for both programs to field junior and senior teams.

The first game for the junior Bulldogs is Sept. 18 against Ross Sheppard at 7:30 p.m. at Larry Olexiuk Field.

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