The Summerside Cooke Insurance Clippers are set to open the 2019 P.E.I. Varsity Tackle Football League on Friday.
The Clippers will host the Souris Wildcats in an 8 p.m. kickoff at Eric Johnston Field.
Summerside has won four straight Potato Bowls and is hoping to have another successful season in the four-team provincial league.
After a three-week training camp, Clippers head coach John Turner has a roster of 26 players set after losing 11 players to graduation.
“We wouldn’t call it a rebuild, but more just a retooling as many of our new players are moving up from our successful Bantam Spartans’ program,” said Turner. “These rookies have played a lot of football and have a high football IQ.”
There is, however, a noticeable difference in the size and speed between bantam and varsity.
“For our success, the guys in the trenches will have to step up as we are a little thin on the O-Line and D-Line,” said Turner. “We might have some of our big guys playing on both sides of the ball early in the season, until we can figure out our players’ skill set in game situations.”
Souris has a full complement of players this season and will provide the Clippers with a big early-season challenge.
“We are expecting a real battle on Friday night against a rejuvenated Souris football program,” said Turner. “This will be a good football game and an early-season test for our team to see what kind of a team we will have this season.”
No bantam game
The Summerside Waterwise Spartans of the P.E.I. Bantam Tackle Football League was also scheduled to open the 2019 season at Eric Johnston Field on Friday night.
The Spartans were scheduled to host the Eastern Kings Steelers. The Steelers had to fold due to a lack of players.
The Spartans’ first league game will be in Cornwall against the Timberwolves on Sept. 20 at 6 p.m.
Offensive co-ordinator Mike Miller and offensive line coach Matt Gunning are back for their third season with the Clippers.
Senior quarterback Nic Gunning will be backed up by rookie Lucas Doucette while running back Mike Friesen, last year’s Potato Bowl most valuable player, returns to the Clippers.
Summerside will have a number of new faces in the backfield with fullback Colin Goodwin and halfback Kieran Arsenault. Senior Alex Campbell returns to his familiar position of tight end while senior receivers Charlie Turner and Kyle Cameron bring a lot of experience and explosiveness to the passing attack.
Sophomore centre Jayden Ryder-Clements and tackle Paul Wamboldt will anchor the offensive line.
“There will definitely be some growing pains with this offensive group, but if we take care of the football and our seniors like Nic, Charlie, Kyle, Alex, and Colin take charge, we should be a solid offensive unit by the end of the season,” added Turner.
Assistant coach Brian Doucet and defensive co-ordinator Jeff MacDonald will once again look to build another championship defence after losing five starters from 2018.
Senior Ryan Murphy will be counted on to be a force in the middle of the defensive line along with sophomore Landon Gallant, who hasn’t played football since atom but has been a pleasant surprise in training camp.
Turner added middle linebacker and senior Brayden Lawless will be counted on to be a force and leader for this defence and sophomore linebacker Breton Brown will need to use his speed to disrupt the Souris offensive attack.
Senior safety Finn Turner will patrol the back end and will be responsible for the defence being on the same page with formations and schemes and will need to make plays against the Wildcats’ passing game.
“Brian and Jeff will have the defence ready,” said Turner. “With their coaching experience and knowledge, they will get our players in the correct defensive calls on Friday night to make plays.”
With Caleb Dawson and his big leg graduating, the Clippers had to find a punter, field-goal kicker and kickoff specialist for this season. Summerside will use a kicking by committee after Doucette won the punting competition in camp, Cameron will kick extra points and Goodwin will be doing the field goals and kickoffs.
“Colin has a big leg as he hit one from 50 yards the other night in practice,” said Turner.