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Saturday, Sep. 22, 2018
Coach McKnight upbeat in spite of the loss
by Randy Pascal

A tough second round playoff loss is not about to undo all the good from a season that would see the Sudbury Jr Gladiators break new ground in 2017. That was the message from first year head coach J.J. McKnight, as the team gathered for their year-end awards Wednesday evening at the Sudbury Curling Club.

After recording the first ever playoff win in franchise history the previous week, the Jr Glads took it on the chin in round two of the OFC (Ontario Football Conference) playoffs, thumped 65-0 by a Peterborough Wolverines team that has yet to taste defeat this year.

"We came out pretty flat, we didn't travel well most games this season, we had a hard time getting off the bus, which is something we're going to have to address in seasons moving forward," noted McKnight at the banquet.

"They were well-prepared, they're big and fast, they're a good team from top to bottom. We knew going in that we were going to be in tough. We made some adjustments, but it just obviously wasn't enough."

The consolation prize to a 2-4 campaign, in the eyes of McKnight, was a 52-27 triumph over the Toronto Jr Argonauts in post-season play. "The playoff win was huge for us, that's a big hurdle to get out of the way," he said.

"Winning begets winning. We have to start building that culture if we're going to take the next step and the step after that." Pretty clear that the final setback of 2017 has done little to dampen the spirits of McKnight, who needed very little time to refocus on 2018.

"I think we got a lot better in the trenches this year versus years past," he stated. "Our skill positions were a pleasant surprise, we had some playmakers. Our defense played above expectations. We're returning six to seven starters on both sides of the ball, so I'm really excied about things moving forward."

And as pleased as he was with the progress demonstrated by his players, McKnight was equally thankful for the opportunity that would allow him to grow as a coach, tackling head coaching reins for the very first time.

"I think the preparation was a different perspective for me," he explained. "It was needing to get all my ducks in a row, compared to just making sure the running backs are ready, or the receivers are ready. The oversight of the whole show was overwhelming, at first."

"I think I got a little bit better at it as the season went on, and hopefully will get even better at it next year." Despite not returning his entire coaching staff from 2017, McKnight is confident that there will be some consistency next summer, along with some welcomed newcomers.

"I know there are some guys (coaches) that are definitely not back, and there definitely are some guys that are coming back," he said. "But I don't think it's a bad thing to have some new blood, to keep things fresh."

That freshness was certainly evident on the field, in the form of Defensive MVP Ben MacDonald, for instance, a grade 11 student at St Benedict Catholic Secondary School who made his first appearance with the Gladiators this past April.

"I played junior ball with the school and just loved it," said MacDonald. "I wanted to come out and be more competitive, see if I could get better." Coming off his first year of high school football last fall, the talented lineman was sure that this goal was achieved after spending a few months in the OFC.

"You really have to push yourself here," he said. "My maturity, my spirit - I've gotten a lot more vocal, a lot louder." Rounding out the individual award winners, for the Sudbury Jr Gladiators, were:

Lineman of the Year: James Bronicheski

Special Teams MVP: Ryan McDougall

Offensive MVP: Adam Rocha

Team MVP: Liam Cousineau

Gladiator of the Year: Chris Scherzinger

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