Cougars’ coach has high hopes for ’08

Notre Dame Cougars head coach Gino Castellan has high hopes for his club concerning the 2008 Central Alberta High School Football League season.

Fullback Bryce Cox blocks as quarterback Andrew James throws a pass during Notre Dame Cougar football practice.

Notre Dame Cougars head coach Gino Castellan has high hopes for his club concerning the 2008 Central Alberta High School Football League season.

And why not?

“We have high expectations for this year and we’ll see how good we are on Friday at Rocky. We’re pretty good at the skill positions and that could go a long way for us,” the Cougars boss said Wednesday, looking ahead to a season-opening meeting with the host Rocky Mountain House Rebels.

“We’re hoping to be right up there this year . . . be in the top four, make the playoffs and then see what happens.”

The Cougars, of course, are historically among the league’s top-four teams and last year finished 6-2 in regular-season play before falling to the Sylvan Lake Lakers in a semifinal.

“That’s right, but what’s important this year is that we progress each week and hopefully be in our full-game mode by playoff time,” said Castellan. The Notre Dame squad is not necessarily in a rebuilding stage, yet neither are the Cougars top-heavy with rookies.

“We have a mix of kids. We have some good Grade 10s and 11s who are first-year players or players who were here last year and are now starting,” said Castellan.

“It’s a good mix. We’re happy. We have 49 kids out (for regular practice), which is the most I’ve had in the last 10 years.”

Castellan insisted the quantity is not without quality.

“Absolutely, there’s some good young kids who have come in from the junior program which is paying dividends for us. They’ve come in here with some skills, which is good to see.”

Some of the more impressive junior Cougars graduates include guard Logan Sabourin, slotback Nathan Stearns and wideout Tyler Cassidy.

Sophomore Andrew James will start at quarterback and will hand the ball to transfer student Connor Toyota — a swift and sturdy running back from Grande Prairie — on a regular basis.

“We have guys who can run and catch the ball,” said Castellan, referring to his new back and a fleet of receivers that also includes veteran Patrick Dolan.

The Cougars’ defence shapes up as one of the league’s best, and could in fact be unparalleled this season.

“I think that’s where our strength is going to be,” said Castellan, who lost just two players from the ‘other’ side of the ball to graduation.

The list of key defensive players includes rush end Connor McLachlan, linebackers Ethan and Conner Borle and A.J. Shenner, and cornerback Tyler LaGrange.

“We’re going to have a good (defensive) crew,” said Castellan.

With just one Grade 12 returnee — centre Dan George — the Cougars head coach admitted the offensive line may be a concern, at least early on.

Olie Streans has joined a Notre Dame coaching staff that also includes fellow assistants Rob Blais, Gary LaGrange, Kent Plosz and Steve Molesky.

Contact Greg Meachem at sports@bprda.wpengine.com