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Stettler Wildcats have slim roster for 2017 season

By Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent

The Wm. E. Hay Stettler Wildcats are going to play like their namesake animal this year and the more ferocious the better because the head coach said the team has a slender roster.

Interviewed at his office Sept. 7, head coach Norb Baharally was as ebullient as a team leader could be while pondering his roster. "The guys that are returning, they are looking well," said Baharally, surrounded by his Buffalo Bills memorabilia. He noted last year's Gr. 10's, the current Gr. 11 players, have been scrimmaging since junior high, and number between eight to 10 players. Their experience is going to come in handy.

The issue is this year's Gr. 12 players, last year's Gr. 11's, include only two returning veteran players. "My numbers are really down this year," said the head coach. "I'm thin on numbers, I'm thin on back-ups."

Generally, a high school football team leans on its Gr. 12s for starting and skill positions, while Gr. 11 and Gr. 10 players earn their positions through back-up and special teams work. Asked if he knew of a single problem or issue preventing the Gr. 12's from returning, Baharally said, "I don't know." He said players who declined to return to the gridiron this year cited a number of reasons: after school jobs, homework and others.

Baharally said, after making it to Tier 4 provincials last year, he was expecting a triumphant return in September. "I just expected more numbers," said Baharally.

The Wildcats exhibition game at Brooks Sept. 1 illustrated the problem with an anemic roster noted the head coach. He said the team played well starting off, but wore down over four quarters compared to the opponent. The final score was 26-6 for Brooks.

'The thing I took away from that is…they played with a lot of guts and glory," said Baharally.

Offense

Breaking the depth chart down, Baharally said the roster isn't long, but it's solid. "I think our skilled position guys are really good," he noted. Gr. 11 running back and slot back Noah Mckay is brilliant. Gr. 12 Kam Bainbridge, linebacker and RB, stands out as a big, skilled player.

Gr. 10 player Brett Mercier, RB and defensive back, shines too.

Gr. 11 quarterback Carson Neitz, who stepped up last year after an injury, has made a name for himself. "I think he's the best in our league," said Baharally.

A solid offensive line makes every team better and coach said it looks solid. "My O-line…if we stay healthy, we're going to be good," said the head coach. Baharally said centre Danny LeSage, who also plays fullback and defensive end, is starting after an injury.

Offensively, Baharally said the only piece the Wildcats puzzle is missing is a stand-out slot receiver or flanker. However, he said the Wildcats will rely on go-to guy Eric Williams, a Gr. 12 player, while looking to Gr. 10 player Liam McQuay to step-up.

Defense

On the defensive side of the ball, the head coach said the Wildcats can protect their house. "I think we're going to be solid defensively," said Baharally.

Middle linebacker Justin Matchett is the defensive captain for a reason. Baharally said Matchett's strength is his leadership, but he's also smart and a good all-round player.

Gr. 11 player Steele Nichols will handle placekicker duties, and coach said Nichols didn't miss a kick last year. He will also punt this year.

Devon Mehle, a Gr. 11 LB, typically plays strong side and, in only his second year of football, is a solid player.

Coaching

Baharally said he's also got a smaller coaching staff this year. "I lost like six people," said the head coach.

He had 10 staff last year, and this September has three full-time. He said people have moved away, got new jobs and other personal demands. But the staff he has are going to make the Wildcats shine.

Offensive coordinator Guy Neitz, defensive coordinator Brian Matchett and jack-of-all-trades Dwight Myshniuk along with part-time coach Thomas Schmidt are a small but dedicated group.

Baharally said there's a silver lining to the roster cloud though. The Gr. 10s and 11s have a golden opportunity. "These guys are going to get lots of playing time this year," he added.

The head coach noted it's not too late to join the Wildcats for the 2017 season; any students who wish to play should email him at nbaharally@clearview.ab.ca or call 403-740-3635.

The Stettler Wildcats invite the entire community to root them on at their home opener Fri., Sept. 15 at Wm. E. Hay field against rival Sylvan Lake. Kick-off is 4:30 p.m.

Stu.Salkeld@pipestoneflyer.ca

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