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Monday, Oct. 22, 2018
Youngsters get taste of offense and defence in JMYFL
by Randy Pascal

Positional diversification is but one of the areas that officials of the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League (JMYFL) will point to, noting the efforts that are made towards ensuring that the youngsters who compete gain as broad a scope of the football experience as possible.

Interestingly enough, there is room for some debate as to the necessity of exposure to both sides of the ball. Some might suggest that the very nature of the dramatic difference between playing offense and defence lends itself to some early sorting of the talent on hand, with kids naturally migrating to the area that best suits their personality.

That was the original starting point of JMYFL Director of Player Safety, Coaches and Football Development, Ed Prud’homme. “It’s one of those things where you eventually fall into one camp or the other,” he said, as the group wrapped up their traditional Labour Day season opening schedule Monday at the James Jerome Sports Complex.

“Very rarely do you get those kids who fall into both camps.” Still, there is a tendency, most notably in the early going, to allow participants to test the waters and find their level of comfort. “At the younger ages, there is a lot of cross-training, and that’s done by design,” Prud’homme explained.

“First, it allows coaches to cover absentees, but it also allows players to try both offense and defence. As they get a little bit older, they tend to develop a penchant, one way or the other.”

But as the Hurricanes closed out the day’s festivities with a 24-12 win over the Blue Devils in bantam play, it was apparent that at least some of the key contributors on the field were still finding their way, positionally speaking, despite several years of experience in the league.

The Hurricanes defence, for example, was led by a one-two punch that included Austin Rees and Roo Astgen, with both players demonstrating their ball pursuit abilities at several times in the match. A 13 year-old grade eight student at St Charles College, Rees was in fact enjoying the thrill of the chase, so to speak, for the very first time.

“I’ve played offense mostly over the years, centre the last two years,” he said. “I wanted to tackle this year. I wanted to be able to hit. I have the speed and have size to hit a guy, to catch up to them if need to.”

Looking right at home in his role as middle linebacker, Rees seems to have grasped the basics of his new position with barely a hiccup. “I try and hit low, hit on the thighs,” he said. “If I hit high, I’m going to get run over.” Mind you, Rees and his teammates have also gained from the advantage of playing under long-time head coach Randy Stevens, perhaps the only man on the sidelines on Saturday who has been involved with the league since its inception 24 years ago.

One suspects the message he passed along, pre-game, to his players this weekend has been heard by hundreds before. “With it being our first game, they wanted us to get a feel for hitting, get a feel for getting hit, get a feel for the ball, and have fun,” said Rees.

Offensively, the Hurricanes enjoyed a three touchdown performance from running back Jack Beauchamp, with Alessio Capasso sailing three conversions through the uprights, each one worth two points at this level.

Trailing 8-0 at the half, the Blue Devils showed signs of bringing it together on offense through the final two quarters, as first time quarterback Caleb Lamontagne truly settled in. Suiting up as a receiver for coach Stevens one year ago, Lamontagne had spent most of his five previous years on the opposite side of the ball.

“Ever since I have had him, he’s always been a defensive player,” said Prud’homme, who has coached with the mini-mac and tyke divisions before focusing on working with all of the JMYFL coaches in recent years. “This year, he wanted to tackle the QB role. It’s always nice to see those kids who were maybe a little bit timid, at the start, and watch the transition from year to year.”

“I like catching the ball, but I felt like trying out quarterback,” said Lamontagne, who cites basketball as his primary sport, given that he has competed at a club level for several years. “Quarterback is a lot harder than you would think, to see where the receivers are going and where to throw the ball. They’re big, and they’re running right at me.”

A natural lefty, the 14 year old grade nine student at Ecole Secondaire catholique l’Horizon suggested that he creates something of a different look for opposing defences, thanks to the game planning of coach Dan Lane and his staff.

“They try and make plays where I can roll out to my left, so I don’t have to turn my body to throw it,” said Lamontagne. The approach paid dividends, as the pivot connected with favourite target Drew Lalonde on touchdown receptions of 55 and 18 yards, the second following a 50-yard pass and run by the same tandem on the previous play.

While there is clearly work to be done with each and every team, those on hand Monday just seemed happy that fall football season has arrived. “I just love seeing the kids coming out here and having a good time,” said Prud’homme. “I really appreciate all of the hard work and effort that all of the coaches put in every year.”

“It’s always awesome to see week one, when all of their efforts from the past few weeks can actually be seen on the field.”

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