Nicholas Baharally always seems to be sporting a smile, especially when he’s near the football field.
“Oh yeah, as long as you’re playing football, I’m having a good time — winning or losing,” Baharally, 17, said Friday after his final high school football game with the Stettler Wildcats.
“The last two seasons, we’ve had pretty good success, with the provincial (championship) in 2011 and having another good run in 2012.
“This year wasn’t the same thing, with the commitment. We’d have 15 out of our 35 guys showing up for practice, but as frustrating as it is, for the guys that are there that really love football, you’re out there playing and that’s what really counts. It’s always the same 15. There was a good core of guys who would always come out to all the practices. It was good.”
The season-long personnel challenges caught up with the Wildcats this fall, and they were bumped from championship contention before playing two consolation games, including Friday’s 7-0 loss to the Wetaskiwin Sabres in the Central Alberta High School Football League’s seventh-place game last Friday at Stettler.
Afterward, the 14 Wildcat seniors reflected on the end of a high school career filled mostly with fond memories.
“It’s crazy,” said Baharally, son of longtime coach Norbert Baharally. “I remember still our first game of my Grade 10 year, and now I’ve played the last game of my Grade 12 year. I don’t know where it all went.”
Including their minor football days, the graduating Wildcats built friendships that span almost a decade.
“After the game, I was talking with all the seniors,” Baharally said. “Me and Cody Ell, I was just saying to him, ‘We’ve played eight years of football together now,’ and it’s been seven years together for the most of us. It hit me today now that’s it all done.”
Baharally has grown up around football, and it’s likely to remain a big part of his life. He plans to attend university and try out for a CIS team, or alternatively play junior football to prepare for the university game within a few years.
“Just depending on where I go to school, and what their university team is like, then I’ll kind of make the decision,” he said. “I’ll go try out for the university team, of course, but we’ll see. There’ll always be the backup of junior.”
He listed reputable CIS football teams like the Calgary Dinos and the Saskatchewan Huskies as schools whose prospects also have the opportunity to play junior football in their respective cities — such as the Colts in Calgary and the Hilltops in Saskatoon.
“Ideally, I’d like to go to school at U of C, but this was the first year in their history that they went 8-0 for an undefeated regular season,” said Baharally, five-foot-eight and about 195 pounds. “I’ve gone to (Dinos’) camps, and that’s a tough team to make coming out of high school, as are all university teams. It’s not an easy jump from high school to university, but especially when you’re ranked the No. 3 team in the country right now.
“But if I do go to U of C, I’ll hopefully be playing for the Calgary Colts — the junior program there. We had one of our players last year from the graduating (Wildcats) — Theren Churchill — he played junior football this year for the Edmonton Huskies and he had a pretty good season, so that’s always an option if you’re not going to make a university team right out of high school. And even if you do make it, instead of being red-shirted on the (college) team, go play some junior football, develop more and that’ll get you ready for university football.”
Baharally was a perennial all-star with the Wildcats, and played almost every position. He even subbed at quarterback a couple of weeks ago in a consolation semifinal against the Lindsay Thurber Raiders of Red Deer. And he practised at quarterback late last week, after an injury sidelined starter Stephen Zuk, and rookie Kyle Lawrence’s status was in limbo because of a concussion.
“But luckily, Kyle did get cleared to play and he stepped up today,” Baharally said. “He played a great game. That kid has some talent in football.”
Baharally was thankful he remained healthy this season.
“Overall this year, I was lucky,” he said. “Playing both ways, and all special teams, I’m on the field almost all game every game. You know there’s a lot more chance of getting hurt, especially if you’re getting tired and you’re not paying attention. But I was definitely lucky that I was able to stay healthy throughout the season and, for the most part, throughout all my high school career.”