The Central Alberta Prairie Fire has been a hit since its birth five years ago.
The Fire, who play in the Calgary Area Midget Football Association, have consistently drawn between 60 and 70 players to their camp each season with 55 on their roster.
“We also keep several Grade 9s as red shirts so they can have a year of development,” explained first-year head coach Patrick Callan.
“The program has been a success in the number of kids we have out. There has been a lot of interest.”
This year’s edition of the Prairie Fire is no exception as they draw players from all of Central Alberta, ranging from as far North as Leduc and South to Olds.
“The majority of the players have come from Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Lacombe and Stettler and we have five or six kids from Innisfail,” said Callan, who has been with the program for all five years.
“My first year I coached the defensive line and then was defensive coordinator for the next three,” he said. “This is my first year as head coach, but because I was with the program since it started it was an easy transition.”
The team is made up of players from Grade 9 through Grade 11 and is used as a development team for the local high schools.
“It gives the kids an extra season to develop and it’s been beneficial,” said Callan, who played on the line at Notre Dame High School before joining the University of Calgary Dinos in 2004. He spent five years with the Dinos before returning to Central Alberta.
Callan likes the calibre of play at the midget level.
“It’s a level some of the kids haven’t seen before,” he said. “Playing against the Calgary teams is like playing provincial football. There are no easy games.”
Several members of the Prairie Fire have gone on to compete in the provincial Senior Bowl and with the Alberta U18 team at the national finals.
“By getting an opportunity to play in our program, as well as the high school, it certainly helps prepare them for those programs,” he said.
This year’s roster is evenly spread out beginning in Grade 9 through Grade 11.
“We have some high quality Grade 9s plus a solid group in Grade 10 and a veteran group in Grade 11. It’s a nice distribution so that every year we have a good group returning and there’s no drop off.”
The biggest challenge for the Prairie Fire’s coaching staff is to improve the team’s consistency.
“Our goal each year is to get the kids to compete at the highest level consistently,” he said. “It’s a big mountain to climb to get them to perform under pressure and to play with confidence and without fear. To be able to compete no matter what happens. The kids do a great job, but not as consistent as we would like.”
This year’s team will host the Calgary Broncos tonight at 7:15 p.m. in Lacombe. It’s their second and last home game of the six-game regular season. They lost their home opener 27-12 to the Calgary Mavericks before tying the Hilltoppers 12-12.
“We should have won both games,” said Callan. “But that’s sports.”
What the Prairie Fire does have is a strong ground game by Justin Fedun and Johanna Smith out of Notre Dame, Alex Sugue of Hunting Hills and Tanner Newsham of Innisfail.
What Callan hasn’t found yet is a starting quarterback with Devin Desormeau of Notre Dame and Jon Ericson of Lacombe sharing duties.
The defence has a strong group on the line and at linebacker.
Jacob Plamondon of Notre Dame, Kaedann Price of Lindsay Thurber and Ty McCann of Stettler anchor the defensive line with Edward Kim of Hunting Hills, Reiss Flunder of Notre Dame and Darian Davis of Innisfail at linebacker.
The Fire will play six regular season games and at least one playoff game.