The Central Buccaneers hoist the elusive Alberta Football League championship trophy after defeating the Edmonton Elite 47-17 last season at Setters Place at Great Chief Park. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

The Central Buccaneers hoist the elusive Alberta Football League championship trophy after defeating the Edmonton Elite 47-17 last season at Setters Place at Great Chief Park. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Central Alberta Buccaneers ready for 20th season in Alberta Football League

The Bucs are also defending champions

The defending Alberta Football League (AFL) champion Central Alberta Buccaneers returned to the gridiron this weekend with a new-look roster.

Out of their 48-man squad, they will only have 10 returning players from the championship team.

General Manager of the Bucs Mike Wilkinson explained their goal for the upcoming season, which began on Saturday against the Airdrie Irish, would be another championship appearance. The Irish knocked off the Bucs 31-22 to kick off the season.

“We’ve got a lot of great things going on here with the team because a lot of the players playing with us are local central Alberta players. Whether that’s Sylvan Lake, Stettler, Ponoka, all kind of guys who’ve grew up in the area playing football and are looking to continue that game afterwards,” he said.

“What we’d like to see out of these players is watch them grow, watch the team grow with them, especially for that big number of newcomers to the club.”

Some of the new players recruited to the team haven’t played since before the pandemic but also have some older men in their late 20s early 30s who haven’t played since junior or university and just really wanted to get back into the game.

They also have some Americans including defensive tackle Jordan Howard who came from Nashville to Canada for the first time.

“I think we’re going to be really good, we’re going to be competitive in the league. We’ve got a young quarterback Brett Bylsma he’s just finishing up his diplomas right now and we’re excited to see what he can do. He’s got some great precision as a quarterback, knows his plays inside and out so it’s going to be exciting to watch him grow in his football career there,” Wilkinson said.

Last year was the Buccaneers’ first championship in franchise history and this season they’re celebrating 20 years since they were created. Back in the 90s, the Red Deer Sooners won four championships before the Buccaneers were established.

Wilkinson explained winning it all last year was an experience like no other having all their fans at Great Chief Park to cheer them on.

“There was a point in time where the crowd was just completely alive and cheering and yelling. The other team had to clap their hands to signal to snap the ball because they couldn’t communicate with each other,” he added.

The Buccaneers won’t play their first home game of the season until July 9 to take on the Edmonton Elite. They will play their first three games on the road in Airdrie, Fort McMurray, and in Calgary. However, they’re looking forward to an action-packed July at Great Chief Park playing Edmonton, Peace Country, and Cold Lake.

The general manager said they have some things planned for this season’s home games as they celebrate 20 years in the AFL. Wilkinson said this makes them the second oldest team in the league, which is a big milestone to hit.

“It certainly is in this league that’s for sure. I mean talking with guys who’ve been around for 15 to 20 years in the AFL they remember the team they started playing with and then they played for three other teams because eventually, things happen and executives change and programs fold and then reemerge as different clubs,” he said.

“Even as early back as 2017 the league itself had 10 teams in it and now we’re down to seven so just a really good pat on the back to be celebrating 20 years as an organization.”