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Veterans lend a helping hand as Jr Spartans numbers grow
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For Niki Sola and Noah Parsons, young men who were part of the Sudbury Jr Spartans U16 program in both 2022 and 2023, the start of training camp must seem like old hat.

Then again, there is much about 2024 that is completely different.

“We just showed up (in 2022), got our equipment and we played,” said Parsons, a 15 year-old grade 10 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School who appears most likely to earn the starting quarterback bid come the kickoff to regular season play. “That first year, everybody that came out made the team, basically.”

“We had like 70 guys last year at tryouts and this year, we’ve added another 40 guys to that. Sudbury football went for “first come first served” to now, some players unfortunately are going to get cut – including guys that might have made the high-school team.”

While one and all involved with the team were eager to spread the good word to ensure sufficient numbers on squads that typically prefer to have 50 to 60 bodies at their disposal, the Jr Spartans might have outdone themselves.

“The whole time I’ve played football in Sudbury, I have never seen so much excitement and love for the game – and so many people willing to come out and give it a try,” noted Niki Sola, the young defensive back who packs a pound for pound wallop that is the envy of most every athlete playing the secondary in the league.

“It’s nice to see so many numbers – and it’s really surprising.”

Truth be told, the issue previously was seldom the ability to draw out the “football lads”, those who are tied tightly to the game, those who thrive on understanding schemes and playbooks – and watch CFL and NFL with all of those concepts in mind.

The difference this year seems to lie in the glut of athletes who have thrown up their hands to give the gridiron sport a shot without any background whatsoever in the sport.

“There are a lot of track runners, basketball players, every type of sport coming to play football,” noted Sola.

“Right now, we have eight quarterbacks trying out, including me, and six of them have never played football before,” acknowledged Parsons. “It’s crazy.”

With a swell of numbers quite that large, there are both positives and challenges – not the least of which lies in trying to assess all of this new talent on hand.

“Coach Jordan (Desilets) really trusts us,” said Parsons. “They have so many guys to look over that we almost become a part of the coaching staff – sort of.”

“I am one of only a few players who has played for three years (with the U16 team),” explained Sola. “Coming back, I am able to teach players how to do stuff. I tell the new guys that if they have a position they want to play, take the time to try and watch football – any level of football.”

“Watch how they play; watch how they move and try and understand and get mental reps - that way, when it comes time to actually doing it, you have an understanding.”

“With so many people at so many positions having to learn so many concepts, it slows things down a little,” added Sola. “But it’s exciting because we know we’re going to have a lot of depth everywhere.”

Noah Parsons recalled his earliest of forays with the Jr Spartans – and how things are so much different two years later. “When I came in my first year, I didn’t know what I was going into,” he said. “I thought this was going to be a fun little league that I could play in – and then I realized that this is rep football, that there are things that I need to know.”

“I started watching film on this and that. This is a great organization because the coaches are very easy to talk to, especially if you’re a coachable kid.”

Of course, the excitement that Parsons is feeling extends well beyond a Lancer Dome turf filled with teenagers from one end to the other. It would be near impossible for the well-spoken young man not to look at this summer as his coming out party.

“I’ve sat behind Steven (Sola – U18 QB) and I’ve learned so much from him,” said Parsons. “And the more reps you get, the more comfortable you get around everybody, just knowing the system. But one of my problems last year is that I didn’t have that game sense. When I get into the game, on the field, my mind would start to race a little.”

“As a quarterback, you have to know coverages,” he continued. “We know what the offense is doing; now figure out what the defense is doing.”

On the flip side, Niki Sola will do his absolute best to ensure that he and his defensive cohorts disguise what they have planned. And much like his older brother, he gladly assumes the role of an on-field quasi coach, sharing her expertise right across the entire defensive unit.

“I will try and let my team know how to look for the run and maybe get downhill quicker,” he said. And for as much as many newcomers to football are more than comfortable with contact, there is a huge difference between being able to tackle effectively versus throwing a textbook body check on the ice.

“If you have a couple of years of experience, you probably know this fundamentally, but for new players, especially when going against guys that are bigger than you, if you hit high, above the elbows, you’re almost always going to bounce off,” said Sola.

“I tell them to hit low, every time.”

And with 120 players at tryouts this year, hope to god that word will spread.

Northern Hockey Academy