Josh Burke (yellow) of the Notre Dame Cougars football team works on a tackling drill with Mason Jaques (blue) at practice Monday night. Notre Dame, the defending city champions will kick off their season on Thursday in Lacombe at 7:30 p.m. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate staff)

WATCH: Notre Dame Cougars football team look to youth in 2017

The Notre Dame Cougars were the first Central Alberta tier 1 football team in 21 years to advance to the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association regional final last year.

It was also the first time since 2009 that the Cougars had won a city title.

Now, begins the rebuilding of a program that lost five impact players to the Canadian University ranks. Quarterback Devin Desormeau, receiver Kristian Guhl, defensive lineman Jacob Plamondon, linebacker Reiss Flunder and defensive back Payton LaGrange, who all played in the senior bowl last season have moved on from Notre Dame.

With the cyclical nature of high school football in Alberta, the coaching staff has been preparing the young Cougars squad for the upcoming season, which starts Thursday in Lacombe.

“We lost five guys that are playing CIS and a few that are playing junior, so whenever that happens it is tough,” said coordinator Ian Rattan.

“That’s the cool thing about football here in Central Alberta is it’s so cyclical like that, you’ll have a group of guys that grew up and then they’re gone, then all of a sudden it’s brand new kids. We need to find a spot where they can compete and have fun and do the best to help the team out.”

The fact that so many players graduated to the next level from their time at Notre Dame is not only a boost for the program itself, but also helps set an example for those young players about the expectations in a Cougars uniform.

“Just to be able to see how some of these guys came in and didn’t play right away or weren’t the best player, but were able to work themselves into a spot where they could then compete and play at the next level is awesome to see,” Rattan said.

“For some of these young guys, I don’t see how it wouldn’t light a fire under them and show them they can do whatever they want if they put the work in.”

Rattan added that it’s obviously tough to fill the holes of so many impact players, but he said he expects the youthful group to make up for that with their work ethic.

“The biggest thing is to just do your job. Control what you can. So many times guys will focus on what the guy next to them is doing and what he’s supposed to be doing or about a penalty– something they can’t control,” he said.

“If we can get our guys to focus on their job, which is their work ethic and out competing the guy across from them, they’re going to be fine.”

With their opening game set for Thursday at MEGlobal Athletic Park in Lacombe against the Rams, Rattan isn’t exactly sure what kind of identity the team will have to kick off the season.

“We will be fast and athletic. We have a good line both on offence and defence. We have some good skill players too. Obviously these guys didn’t get as many reps last year because of the team we had. As long as we’re getting better every day, every practice, it’s good to go,” he said.

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