New Central Alberta Buccaneers head coach Devon Hand is like a kid on Christmas morning.
The 2015 Alberta Football League season is set to kick off this weekend with the Bucs in Calgary to take on the defending champion Wolfpack.
Hand spent the previous two seasons on the Bucs’ sideline, assembling one of the league’s top defences and became an easy choice to take over from Duane Brown when he stepped down after last year.
Hand is promising the start of a new, exciting era of Bucs football on Sunday.
“I’m more excited than some of the players,” said Hand. “It’s night and day different, this has been a labour of love, there’s a lot of effort that has gone into it.”
Hand has been busy recruiting from across the country to help fill out and accentuate the Central Alberta based roster.
At the time of his hiring he announced the addition of St. Francis Xavier grads defensive back Shane Nolan and defensive end Devon Marshall, but has since been tight lipped about his signings. He will only to say they will be greatly improved across the board.
“I’ve gone full Patriot, full Belichick, I don’t want anyone to know about our new guys,” said Hand. “We’ve improved our depth at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and quarterback position — we’ve improved the roster top-to-bottom, no question.”
However, he does have a strong group of returning players that will form the foundation of the team, including AFL rookie of the year and rushing champion Junior Rivera and arguably the league’s top receiver in Matt Merkley.
The goal is for a more diversified offence that puts pressure on opposing defences as opposed to leaning on their own D and hoping not to make a mistake when they have the ball.
“Our new offensive co-ordinator Aaron Shepard has brought in a totally unique system that caters towards our strengths and takes advantage of some of the consistencies and trends and we’ll see in AFL defences,” said Hand.
The defence is still where the Bucs will win games with the likes of Dave Henderson, Tylor Johanesson Kerry Lynch, Cody Baird and team captain Markus Fay returning to the fold.
“We’ll be running a version of the same defence, that’s my side of the ball,” said Hand. “We’ll have a pressure front where the whole initiative is to get after the quarterback and get him to the ground, and if we do that we should create more opportunities for our offence.”
They open up at Shouldice Park in Calgary against the Wolfpack on Sunday at 2 p.m. However, the Wolfpack will look nothing like the team that won last year’s provincial title after a host of retirements and the bulk of their returning vets jumping to the Calgary Gators in an attempt to form a super team. This includes the legendary brother tandem of quarterback and receiver Darryl and Mike Leason who turned the Wolfpack into a national power.
Other players also jumped to expansion team Airdrie Irish.
Hand, however, is not taking the Wolfpack lightly, expecting a talented, restocked roster, despite their owner Jim Lightfoot keeping his recruiting cards as close to his vest as the Bucs.
“I don’t think they are going to be the same as they were last year without Leason and those guys but they’ll have something for us. If I know Jim Lightfoot, he’ll have weapons,” said Hand.
The Buccaneers open their home schedule on June 13 against the Gators at 7 p.m. at Lacombe’s ME Global Field.
“The guys are an angry mob and they’re ready to compete,” said Hand. “It’s been a heck of a training camp, it’s the earliest we’ve started in the 15-plus years as a football team, and it shows.”