Help is on the way for the Stettler Wildcats.
After struggling to attract an adequate number of players to practices in the preseason, the Wildcats showed promising signs last week in their season-opening 49-7 loss to the Hunting Hills Lightning at Red Deer.
Stettler scored a victory of sorts this week with the commitment from another half-dozen players, some of them with previous high school football experience.
The anticipated arrival of those newcomers at Monday’s practice brought the Wildcats’ roster to about 38 players, a much more appealing number than the late-August training camp count.
“We’ve got two Grade 12s coming back, one Grade 11 coming back, a new Grade 12 kid, and then a new Grade 10 kid,” said Wildcats coach Norbert Baharally, also the principal at William E. Hay Composite High School.
“And they’re all pretty big players.”
Seniors Cody Ell and Morgan Dayman are back on board, and towering Grade 11 student Christian Young has also opted to return. Jacob Hamel, a Grade 12 student, adds athleticism to the roster.
“Jacob is a new addition to us,” Baharally said of Hamel, who is also in camp with the Stettler Lightning junior B hockey team. “He’s just a good athlete. He’s been wanting to come out.
“Dallas Bosma is also coming out. He’s a Grade 12 guy that played early in the system, but hasn’t played high school yet.
“Also coming out is a new guy from Red Deer who’s in our school now as a Grade 10. His name is Brendon McCallum.”
A strengthened Stettler club is expected to face the Camrose Trojans in Week 2 action Friday night at Camrose. Game time is 7:45.
The rebuilding Wildcats faced a formidable foe last week in Hunting Hills, the two-time defending champion in the Central Alberta High School Football League and now the second-ranked Tier 2 team in the province.
All things considered, last season’s kickoff at Great Chief Park wasn’t as bad a result as the Wildcats might have anticipated.
“I thought we played very well,” Baharally said. “With two minutes left in the first half, we were down 21-7 and we got a crucial turnover at that point, and they turned it into a touchdown. If we were able to run the clock out in the first half and go into the locker-room down 21-7 against the No. 3-ranked team in the province for Tier 2, the boys would have been feeling pretty good about themselves — and I think they felt good about themselves all night, too.
“I was very happy with the way our offence moved the ball. We were able to move the ball against (the Hunting Hills) defence quite well. We converted a few crucial third-down conversions, and we did well there.
“Defensively, however, we gave up lots of big plays. Out of the seven touchdowns that they scored, I think probably five of them were big one-play runs that they beat our defence. Just some missed assignments and maybe not knowing what needed to be done.”
At any rate, the Wildcats proved they might have some fight, after all.
“Oh yeah, I saw lots of positives,” Baharally said. “I saw lots of guys out there that had never played football before that were sticking their noses in and doing a good job for us. So I was very pleased with the effort that our guys had that night, there’s no doubt.”
Baharally praised newcomers like Lucas Milne (Grade 12) and Hunter Berger (Grade 10).
“Those are two guys that hadn’t played before in quite a while, and they started on the offensive line for us,” he said.
“Kyle Lawrence had a really good game for us. He’s a Grade 10 guy that played through the system here. He did a good job — kickoff returns and punt returns.”
Stettler veterans Nicholas Baharally, Stephen Zuk and Jordan McCallum supplied solid performances.
“They all did well,” said coach Baharally.
Zuk, a Grade 12 quarterback, scored the Wildcats’ lone touchdown on a seven-yard run and kicker Frank van Ommeren kicked the convert. That cut the Lightning lead to 13-7 midway through the second quarter.
Wildcats sophomore Thomas Cassidy accumulated 50 yards rushing on 16 carries, while Zuk connected on six of 16 passes for 53 yards.
Lightning running backs Matt Russell and Jin Ahn each scored three touchdowns.
The Wildcats, slotted 10th provincially in the season-opening Tier 3 rankings, dropped out of the rankings this week.
At home last Thursday, Camrose lost its first game 44-12 to the Lindsay Thurber Raiders of Red Deer.
END ZONE: Stettler Mayor Dick Richards was among the Wildcats’ fans who made the trip to Red Deer for Thursday’s game. His nephew, Cody Richards, was in the Hunting Hills lineup. … Tyler Stewart, one of the Wildcats’ 2013 graduates, is on the bantam Stettler Cougars’ coaching staff. … Three current Wildcats — Thomas Cassidy, Kyle Lawrence and Russel Steen — were officials at Saturday’s bantam game, in which the hometown Cougars defeated the expansion Ponoka Junior Broncs 53-0 to run their record to 2-0.