By Dan Kinvig – Abbotsford News
Published: September 02, 2009 3:00 PM
It was a scene that would warm any coach’s heart.
Four days a week for the last eight-plus months, W.J. Mouat senior football coach Denis Kelly could walk into the school’s weight room and find a significant segment of his team working out as if their futures depended on it.
There was a kernel of truth to that notion. For the Hawks’ seniors-to-be, maximizing their final year of high school football and earning a university scholarship were powerful motivators.
Seven Hawks – Tyler Declare, Allan Dicks, Drew Chung, Jake Heathcote, Chad Hanson, Brady Churly and Dustin Plett – went the extra mile in the workout department. Just days after Mouat’s loss to the Terry Fox Ravens in the provincial AAA championship game last December, they formed a training group under the guidance of Matt Chapdelaine, a former Mouat star receiver who graduated in 2006.
Chapdelaine put the seven through a rigorous regimen designed to boost the players’ speed and strength. Skipping sessions was almost unheard of – the hardcore Hawks maintained their workout schedule during Christmas and spring breaks.
According to Kelly, such offseason dedication is unrivaled in his history at the helm of Mouat football, which spans 23 seasons and three provincial titles.
“They provide so much leadership for the other kids,” Kelly said. “Whether they’re in the weight room or on the field, they set the tone for us.”
Dicks, a senior tailback, might be the poster boy for the self-improvement campaign. When the workout sessions began, Dicks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds – a solid time, but not spectacular. These days, he runs the 40 in a scorching 4.35 seconds.
Dicks’s conditioning was so off-the-charts at a scouting combine in Seattle, he was invited to combine events in California and Oklahoma.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “I thought that the guys in the States would be so much better than me. But I went down there and realized I could compete with those guys.”
Declare, the Hawks’ stout senior linebacker, also showed marked improvement. Previously, he could bench press 185 pounds three times, but these days, he hoists 225 pounds six times.
Just as impressive was his physical transition from rounded to ripped.
“I used to be pear-shaped, man,” Declare said with a chuckle. “When you see yourself in the mirror changing like that, it’s hard to stay out of the weight room.”
As for the on-field benefits of the program . . . opposing running backs had better watch out. “It’s the difference between a good hit and a wow hit,” said Declare, who led the province with 113 tackles last season.
The perennial powerhouse Hawks figure to be among the province’s elite again this season – they held down the No. 4 spot in the provincial AAA spring rankings. But Kelly believes that the top-five teams are so evenly matched that they could beat each other on any given day.
On offence, Dicks and fullback Chung figure to be lethal weapons for the Hawks out of the backfield. In the passing game, a pair of Grade 11 athletes – Churly and Cam Bedore – will split time at quarterback.
“We have unique packages of plays that they can run at any time, which will make us much more versatile,” Kelly said “Even though they’re Grade 11s, we feel they’ll be as good as any Grade 12s in the province.”
Defensively, the Hawks have so many good linebackers that Kelly has decided to tweak his team’s system in order to get five ‘backers – Declare, Heathcote, Luke Friesen, Nick Naylor and James Brodland – onto the field at the same time.
“They’ve all got very good quickness,” Kelly said. “We’ll be very active with them, doing a lot of blitzing and keeping the offence unsure about which of those five will be coming on any play.”