By CLAUDE SCILLEY
If the coaches have done their homework well, they’ve placed a considerable challenge in front of the Kingston Grenadiers’ offensive linemen—again—and those players know it.
“They’re big, they’re fast; they’re like any team from that area,” tackle Kaelan Fraser said of the defensive front of this week’s opponent, the Toronto Thunder.
Standing nearby, Dylan Provost, the centre, nods his head and smiles the smile of a fellow who's heard it all before. The prospect doesn’t seem to dismay him.
“It doesn’t,” he says. “We’ve been here a few times.”
Indeed, it has been the lot of the Grenadiers linemen for most of the Ontario Varsity Football League season to go into games listening to the same refrain: the other team has an imposing defensive front and people wonder how well the under-sized Grens’ offensive line handle it.
You’d think that, five wins into a season that is only seven games old, people would stop worrying; that after helping three different backs have 200-yard rushing games, the skepticism might cease.
It’s getting there.
Coach Mark Magee was effusive in his praise of his offensive line after the Grenadiers rushed for 265 yards last week in a 51-27 victory over Metro Toronto—a team that had lost just one game to that point; allowing just 20 points in its previous four games—but he remains respectful of the Thunder.
“This team, I think, is better (than Metro),” he said. “They’ve got two or three guys on their front that are big, athletic, strong kids, and that doesn’t provide great matchups for us. We’ll be challenged.”
Almost every week, though, Magee ends up marveling at how well his players have answered that call.
“If you look at my offensive line, the biggest kid is 265 pounds, and he’s in Grade 11; he’s a young kid,” Magee said. “Most of our guys are between 240 and 260 and we’re getting out-weighed by 20, 30 pounds a man, but they’re really game. They play hard, they don’t quit, they give good feedback, they’re easy to coach—and they adjust very well on the fly, which has been important.
“They are the common denominator in all three of our backs getting 200 yards. All the backs are good, hard-running backs, but the line is the common denominator there.”
The line is composed of Fraser, Chris Verheyen, Provost, Jamie Saunders and Brayden White. Provost, who plays his high school ball at Frontenac, is the only Kingston Area player among them; three of the others are from Belleville and the fourth from Brockville. “We wouldn’t have an offensive line without (those four),” Magee said.
Fraser, who plays at Belleville Centennial, said the key to the group’s success has been understanding what they're doing.
“We’ve got the plays in our heads and we just run them now,” he said. “We communicate well as a line. We know each other now and it’s just been getting better and better.”
Being as successful as they’ve been, despite being relatively under-sized, comes from being aggressive, Provost said.
“We may not be the biggest, but we play every play to the whistle,” he said. “Our smallest guy, Jamie Saunders, is actually one of our toughest. We love to hit guys.
“A lot of credit goes to our tackles; they always seal the ends so the running backs have good lanes a lot of the time. Our running backs have been awesome, too. They’ve been hitting the holes hard.”
Fraser said it’s not so much pride in succeeding as underdogs that inspires the group. “It’s just about wanting to win,” he said. “We’ve been up against guys three times our size but it doesn’t matter who’s there, we’re going to do our best to beat them and we’ve been able to do it so far this season.
“We’ll just have to play our game and do what our coaches have taught us and hopefully we’ll end up in the right place at the end.”
“This team is going to be big, they’re going to be fast,” he said. “We just have to be better.”
The Thunder comes to town with a 2-4 record that includes a 23-0 loss two weeks ago to Metro—the team Kingston just beat by 24 points—and a 14-13 loss last week to West Durham, the team that also beat Kingston by a point this year.
The Thunder’s record puzzles Magee.
“I don’t know why they’re 2-4,” he said. “The biggest thing that we see on film as a reason is they’ve turned the ball over; fumbles and interceptions. They don’t finish drives.”
The Grenadiers will be completing their regular schedule Saturday. At 5-2, they sit third, holding the tie-breaker with Metro, also 5-2. Ottawa leads the conference at 6-0, West Durham is second at 5-1—with games remaining with Oshawa and Ottawa.
Looming not far behind is Oshawa, 4-2 with two games remaining, against Durham West and Toronto. Kingston and Oshawa were not scheduled to meet this year.
The varsity game is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday. The afternoon’s doubleheader at Loyalist Collegiate will begin at 1 o’clock, when the junior varsity Grenadiers, 3-3, will host the Thunder, at 6-1 second in the conference only to undefeated Ottawa.
The Thunder will present a serious challenge to the home team, having allowed just 85 points in seven games, the second-best defensive record in the league. The Grenadiers, meanwhile, have scored the second-fewest points in the conference, 84, 28 of which came last week in a shutout victory over winless Metro Toronto.