With three consecutive trips to the Football Alberta Tier II provincial finals – and one provincial title to show for it – the St. Joe’s Celtics’ gridiron success is beginning to pay dividends.
Being ranked as one of the top high school gridiron squads in the province in the last two seasons has certainly helped.
“Football’s a popular sport here at St. Joe’s right now. I guess, when you’re winning everybody wants to get on the train and be a part of what you’re doing,” said Celtics head coach Trevor Prichard.
There’s 60 players on the roster this season. Prichard has never had as many players in his nine-year tenure with the program.
Season prep is already underway for the high school football team. They kicked off their 2017 season with a 15-7 victory over the Holy Rosary Raiders over the weekend. On Thursday, the Celtics kick off the Mighty Peace Football League season against the Peace River Pioneers at CKC Field.
“I don’t know if we’re rebuilding (again this year), but our numbers are huge,” said Prichard.
At the beginning of last season Prichard noted the Celtics were in a “rebuild”. Yet, they captured their third consecutive Peace Bowl and Tier II provincial finals berth.
“We’re looking good. I mean... where we go I don’t know. I’d like to say there’s a lot of rebuilding that needs to happen even now because every year you lose kids and you lose talent. Our motto is trying to find the next guy up. That’s always been our motto and we’ve found some really good athletes that have jumped in and taken the roles from their predecessors before them,” said Prichard, noting it’s another talented team this season.
Prichard said success hasn’t come easy. It’s a testament, he said, to work and dedication from the coaching staff, but most importantly, the players.
In building a successful program, there’s also pressures.
“I don’t know if (the coaches) put any pressure on the kids, or if there’s any more pressure on the kids. I think people put that on us. I think people on the outside looking in take a look at that and they think that if we don’t win it all, it’s just not good enough. And, unfortunately, others don’t understand how hard it actually is to win a provincial championship, let alone to getting there,” said Prichard.
“Our (recent success at provincials) is quite the accomplishment. I think everybody thinks you’ve got to win at the end of the day, and certainly that’s the goal, but getting there too is quite a journey...”
Prichard said not only does the pressure come externally, but it also comes from the players themselves.
“I don’t know if (the players) can get any more dedicated,” he said.
“They are still students and they are still going to school, but they’re still getting that education in the sport of football at a higher level in order to succeed and that takes a huge commitment from them.”
Thursday’s Pioneers and Celtics game starts at 5 p.m. at CKC Field.
After Thursday, the Celtics will travel to play the Bev Facey Falcons – last year’s Football Alberta Tier I silver medalists – in a non-MPFL game.
The hopeful end goal this season, Prichard noted, is getting redemption against Foothills in the Tier II finals.
“Hopefully third time’s the charm, but in that process we’ve got to go through good competition like Austin O’Brien (Crusaders) and Lloydminster (Barons) to get there,” he said.
MPFL season kicks off this week
In addition to the Celtics and Pioneers kicking off their seasons, the league’s remaining teams kick off their seasons Sept. 1.
It’s an earlier start than usual for the MPFL, which typically begins once school starts.
The Sexsmith Sabres travel to play the Valleyview Hillside Cougars at 4 p.m. on Friday, while the Charles Spencer High School Mavericks travel to play the High Prairie Renegades. Over at Legion Field, the PWA Titans play the Grande Prairie Composite High School Warriors at 6 p.m.