BY ZACHARY CORMIER
The football season may still be a couple of months away, but Lacombe Bantam Raiders’ Head Coach Fred Knip is excited to get things underway after seeing this year’s team hit the field for their second annual Raiders North-South Jamboree tournament at ME Global Athletic Park on Saturday.
The Raiders will be looking to make another long run after last season’s trip to the Tier III provincial semi-finals, when they were defeated by the Cardston Cougars.
“We were incredibly impressed and delighted. I was very happy with the boys and their performance,” Knip said of the annual tournament, which is meant as a pre-summer warm up for Bantam teams in the Central Football League.
“Although we didn’t have as many boys as we were hoping to, the ones that did come out showed incredible promise and they played excellently this weekend.”
Despite starting the day with just 14 players, the Raiders battled their way to a 1-2-1 record in four games on the day, including a hard fought tie with the Central Football League defending champions, the Hunting Hills Junior Lightning.
“They had 49 players on their roster and we started with 14 and we tied them. I think we could have beat them, however that’s not the way the ball bounced.”
The Raiders also bested the Springbank Phoenix before dropping a pair of losses to a strong Rocky Mountain team and a tough Sylvan Lake team.
“I think if we had played them when we were still fresh, if we had a full compliment of players — I think we’re sitting very strong this year,” Knip said.
One thing that impressed Knip about the players that did make it to the Jamboree was their durability and versatility throughout the tiring day.
“There were maybe one or two that said ‘please can I take a rest?’ but that wasn’t a possibility, so they persevered and they kept on going. The team, as a whole, even though we were few in number, showed a determination to continue to play. That was very encouraging for us,” he said, adding that he hopes that the success they had at the warm up tourney will turn into success this season.
“That we’ll be competitive in every game. That we will win most of our games. My goal is to be back at the provincial finals.”
But the veteran football coach also noted he has expectations of the team beyond getting wins.
“More importantly, without sounding mushy, is to provide an environment for the players to learn the sport, but also to learn community and to learn to work together. For some of these kids the football team will be the only family that they have. I know that in years past kids just flourished because there was a sense of acceptance, a sense of being wanted, being cared for. That to me is more important.
“The rest will happen. We’ll win because the players want to be part of something bigger than W’s and L’s in the columns. We don’t coach football as much as we coach kids. Football just happens to be the avenue.”