Things came together fairly quickly for the Central Alberta Buccaneers this season.
As of June 1 the team had no idea the Alberta Football League would be a go this season.
“Honestly, I thought it would be a disaster because we didn’t know if there would be a season and suddenly it turned around,” said Mark Fay, who is the Buccaneers co-chair with Braydon Epp.
“It was kind of a mad dash to get things rolling, but we’re fortunate to have a good group organizing the team. We’re fortunate in that aspect.”
In fact it turned out better than anyone expected with 51 players on the roster.
“That’s awesome for a men’s league team,” added Fay. “We have a lot of new faces which is encouraging as we look to build a culture which is sustainable in central Alberta for the distant future.
“We have a lot of younger players just out of high school who didn’t get the opportunity to showcase themselves last season for university and junior teams. They’re looking to use this season as an opportunity to continue to grow as a player and build a stronger resumé.
“That’s the cool thing about this league, it works both ways. You have a number of younger players who will look to go on to university and junior while on the other side there’s guys finished at that level who are still looking to play and realize this is good competition.”
The Bucs are one of five teams which managed to come together this season, joining Calgary, Airdrie Cold Lake and expansion Edmonton. Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray won’t field a team.
“They just felt because of economics and trying to put together a roster it wasn’t feasible this season,” said Fay. “But we have the five teams and will play a four game schedule with a semifinal and final.
“There are no nationals because Ontario decided not to play this year, but that’s fine we can still enjoy the season. It’s fun to just get back on the field.”
The Bucs have a number of familiar faces returning from two years ago, including quarterback Brandon Lehy, but will have a new head coach in Geoff Rambeau.
Rambeau, a former player with the Buccaneers, has coached in Sylvan Lake with their bantam program for several years.
The Bucs got on the field in early June in small groups of 10.
“That was all we were able to do early on before things opened up,” explained Fay, who admits the conditioning isn’t the same as normal.
“There are a lot of guys who didn’t do a great job of staying in the best of shape, especially with the gyms closed and not playing for a couple of years,” he said. “But it’s not bad. We have a couple of injuries in camp, which is normal. It’s usually in a game where the most injuries show up.”
The Bucs will open their season Saturday at 6 p.m. at McMahon Stadium in Calgary against the Wolfpack. They open at home at Great Chief Park July 24 at 6 p.m. against the Airdrie Irish.
“We’re excited for sure as we’ll have everything open includiung a beer garden,” said Fay.
The Bucs still practice in Lacombe, but play games at Great Chief Park.
“We’re blessed in that we have one of the best fields and facilities in the province to play our games,” said Fay. “We’re also fortunate we practice in Lacombe, which is no slouch either.”
The Bucs played several years in Lacombe and still have a lot of positive thoughts about the central Alberta community.
“Lacombe did so much for us and playing there was a privilege. But being back in Red Deer we get bigger crowds, have the beer garden and it entices sponsorship.”
Fay feels, like most teams, the defence could be slightly ahead of the offence early in the season.
“That seems to be the way with most teams, but with Brandon back at quarterback we’ll be strong there for sure. I believe we’ll be well balanced and will give teams a lot of headaches.”
Lehy will be backed up by Andrew Stannix while offensive co-ordinator Jarrett Burzuk is also taking some reps at the pivot slot. The receiving core is led by Ben Hnatiuk while Kurt Howland is expected to anchor the offensive backfield.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com