The Red Deer Buccaneers are no longer a team of heavy breathers.
“Our conditioning this season is going to be head and shoulders over last year,” Bucs president-general manager Dave Hanni said Thursday while looking ahead to the team’s Alberta Football League regular-season opener Saturday at 6 p.m. versus the Grande Prairie Drillers at Great Chief Park.
When Hanni stepped aside as sideline boss and moved upstairs during the off-season, it was determined that new offensive and defensive coordinators Kyle Sedgwick and Tim Burris would also share head-coaching duties. The duo started looking at game films from the Bucs’ sorry 2009 campaign which consisted of one win, six losses and one tie — good for seventh place in the eight-team league — and determined that the club, as a whole, was not physically fit.
“Basically, ‘Club Med’ under coach Hanni wasn’t working. The coaches saw that we did have talent and so-so execution, but the thing that stood out in their minds was the fact that we just kind of ran out of gas in games,” said Hanni. “We were in games all the way to the fourth quarter, but then we just couldn’t compete. Defensively, no one was running towards the ball and offensively we were making mistakes. Everyone was tired.”
As a result, Sedgwick and Burris ran a two-month players ‘boot camp’ at the Collicutt Centre and outdoors leading into the 2010 season.
“Their mandate this year was to whip these guys into shape,” said Hanni, who watched the Bucs miss the playoffs each of the last four years. “We’re confident all of the training will pay off. We lost two games last year that we just couldn’t quite finish. If we win just one of those we’re in the playoffs, which we all know is a completely different animal.”
The Bucs have welcomed 13 first-year players, including prospective shutdown cornerback Jordan Willie and offensive linemen Sean O’Donnell and Steve Pearson, who have played university ball at Ottawa and St. Francis Xavier.
“I think they’ll make a big difference for us this year,” said Hanni.
The oft-injured Josh Achtemichuk returns as the club’s starting quarterback. His back-ups are Andrew Stannix and Greg Thompson, who will also see action at the slotback position.
League all-star Kenton Poelzer will handle the bulk of the club’s running duties at tailback, while strong-side receivers Josh Sorensen and Adam Donovan will be prime-time passing targets.
Perennial all-star lineman Dave Henderson will anchor the Buccaneers’ defence.
While the Bucs are hoping for a more successful season due to their improved conditioning, the club also has the advantage of hosting new teams out of Sherwood Park (Renegades) and CFB Edmonton (Lancaster Legion) this season.
“We’re hoping that they’ll be like other expansion teams from the past, that it will take them a while to get going,” said Hanni.
Hanni will also serve as a coach during Bucs’ games.
“I’ll be on the sidelines with a headset and if Kyle wants to call plays from upstairs (Great Chief press box) I can relay them to the players,” he said.
The other members of the coaching staff are special teams coordinator Jay Becker and Jim Claggett (quarterbacks/receivers/running backs).
l The Buccaneers received some extra motivation for the 2010 season when it was determined Wednesday night that Red Deer will host this year’s national championship game Sept. 25 at Great Chief Park.
The Parkland Panthers were scheduled to host the contest, but the club folded during the off-season. The 2006 national championship game, in which the Oshawa Hawkeyes defeated the Calgary Wolfpack, was held at Great Chief.
l The remainder of the Bucs’ home games are June 19 versus Lancaster, June 26th against the Calgary Gators, July 10 versus the Calgary Wolfpack and two weeks later against the Sherwood Park Renegades.