The defending champion Notre Dame Cougars should be running and gunning through the 2010 Central Alberta High School Football League season.
The question is, will they be able to dodge opponent’s bullets?
The Cougars scored a second-best 246 points in regular-season league play last year while posting a perfect 8-0-0 record, and there’s no reason to suggest they will be any less proficient on the offensive side of the ball this fall.
While quarterback Kyle Devine has graduated, he has been ably replaced by Nathan Stearns, who was a key receiver last year and also took the odd snap. Also ready for quarterback duty, if needed, are rookies Kieran Pruden and Dustin Schaber, graduates of the Cougars bantam team.
The Notre Dame running attack is in excellent shape with 2009 league rushing leader Dale MacDonald back for his final season. MacDonald amassed 1,658 yards on 191 carries — an average of 8.7 yards per trip — and scored 16 touchdowns, also a league best, last year.
“Dale will be carrying the load,” said Cougars head coach Gino Castellan, whose team opens today at Camrose versus the Trojans.
Also returning is fullback Chase Knibb, while rookie running back Myles Corsiatto was an all-star and the league offensive player of the year with the bantam Cougars last season.
Castellan’s crew also sports a veteran offensive line featuring Sam Simonsen, Kyle Edwards, Will Laranang and Tyler Macleod, a returning receiver in Axsivier Lawrence and a promising rookie ball-catcher in Jordan Briault.
“Offensively I think we’re better than last year, on paper at least,” said Castellan. “I know we look a little better than last year. We have some experience in the backfield and on the line. We should be able to score some points this season. We’ll see how it goes.”
As for the Cougars’ defence . . .
“That’s where we’re going to struggle a little bit,” Castellan acknowledged. “We’ll be filling holes. Most of our Grade 12s last year were on defence.”
The coaching staff, which also includes Adam Donovan, Byron and Ollie Stearns, Gary LaGrange, Rob Willms, Paul Couillard and newcomer Tyler LaGrange, will rely heavily on returning safety/defensive back Dario Viveros and veteran linebacker Milo Mancuso.
In addition, the Cougars’ quarterback and top rusher may also see time on the other side of the ball.
“We lost a lot of kids, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Nathan and Dale play a little on defence. They’re good athletes,” said Castellan.
The Cougars sideline boss, as usual, is entering the new season cautiously optimistic.
“I’m hoping to finish in the top four and then take it from there and see what happens in the playoffs,” he said. “We have a lot of young kids and they’re just going to grow as we practise. They’re just going to need some time to develop and adapt to the league.
“If we win the games we’re supposed to win and as we move along the young kids get better, then we’re going to be better. Our bantam program has done a good job of turning out players. We have a lot of kids out of the program.”
While Castellan isn’t talking — at least publicly — about his club winning a championship this fall, the fact is the Cougars nearly always have high expectations.
“We do get a lot of good athletes. We’ve always been blessed with some key players and that’s obviously been very important,” said Castellan. “We’ve had some pretty good athletes at the running back and quarterback positions and this year is no exception.”