By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Front and centre, undoubtedly in the crosshairs of their opponent when the Kingston Grenadiers travel to Markham to face the winless Raiders Saturday, will be two young, largely untested linebackers.
Grenadiers coach Mark Magee makes no bones about the expectation.
“We’ve got guys who are going to have to step up,” he said. “We’re not changing anything (we do). The guys have got to play.”
Nate McFarland and Wayne Zanchetta are being asked to fill a big void, one left when the core of the Grenadiers defence, inside linebackers Spencer Giffin and Konner Burtenshaw, got themselves suspended by being ejected from the Grenadiers’ game with York-Simcoe last week.
Much as it’s said that it takes a village to raise a child, though, it’s going to take a team to get the two young Grenadiers through their Ontario Varsity Football League baptism of fire.
“We need our (defensive) line to play well, take a little pressure off of them, but other than that we should be OK,” Magee said.
The good news for the Grenadiers, 3-1, is there are few teams that would be better for the youngsters to face. Markham, 0-3, has scored just 52 points this year, more than half of them of them last week in a 52-28 loss to the Toronto Thunder, a team that hasn’t beaten anybody else this year.
The interesting twist that Markham presents, however, is a hurry-up element in its offence, the kind of thing that can compound the struggles of two players not accustomed to playing much as they try to find their bearings.
“It will be harder on the young guys to make sure they know what they’re doing,” Magee allowed, nonetheless confident they can do so. “They’ve got to communicate. There are some other veterans around them.”
Another helpful thing would be if the Grenadiers can find the means to score more often. Of the eight teams in the league with three wins, only Niagara (84) has scored fewer points than the Grenadiers (87), and the Spears have played one less game.
“I’m thinking back to last year’s team,” Magee said,. “They started slow as well. (Quarterbacks Dylan Fisher and Tanner DeJong) have been picking it up in practice and I’m hoping that we start to pick up our offence and kind of ride their arms a little bit. We’ve run the ball well. We just need to complement it more with the pass.
“The kids seem to know what they’re doing. They’re not making many mental mistakes. Hopefully we’re ready to score some points, make it easier on our defence.”
Magee said not too much should be made of the fact Markham is still looking for its first win.
“They look pretty good,” he said. “We’re going to have to play well to beat them. If we can score we’ll be OK. I wouldn’t want to get into one of those games where it’s really close, just for the fact we’re a little shorthanded.
“They play pretty sound, positional, fundamental defence; nothing fancy. They’re just good with their assignments, so we have to be better with ours.”
Whether the Grenadiers can rebound from a decidedly selfish performance a week ago—230 yards of penalties, including 10 flags for unnecessary roughness, another for rough play and two more for objectionable conduct—with the kind of collective effort that can ease two newcomers into vital roles on defence, is the big question for Magee.
He believes his team is ready to do just that.
“It’s a really good test for us to go on the road; we’re shorthanded, it’s a night game … I think they’ll answer the call,” he said. “The guys know. It was a good week of practice. They responded positively (to last week’s debacle). There was some good chatter about doing it the right way, making sure we’re not beating ourselves.
“I’ve had several veteran guys talk to me about it, reassuring me that it won’t happen again. I’m pretty sure that we’re going to move forward and just get better.”