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September 6, 2017

WHSFL | A Storied Program: St. Paul’s High School

If he was so inclined, St. Paul’s Crusaders head coach Stacy Dainard could likely bust out a very compelling legacy speech.

Or he could just have his football players take a peek at any of the Crusaders team photos dating back to the days of leather helmets that line the school’s hallways.

Either way, the Crusaders – who take the first steps in defence of their Winnipeg High School Football League AAA title Friday night at Sisler against the Spartans – have a ton of history to live up to every time they pull on their gear.

“It’s certainly something that as coaches, we remind the players of all the time,” began Crusaders head coach Stacy Dainard in a chat with bluebombers.com earlier this week. “We’re definitely getting everybody’s best game and so we have a duty to prepare ourselves for that and not take anybody lightly.

“In a lot of ways, it’s a point of internal and external pride. These guys, a bit of the reputation they have they haven’t earned. It’s the guys that have come before them that have earned it for them so it’s their job to continue it. They take internal pride in that. And then there’s the external pride of all the alumni… our school is unique in the high school football league, not just in terms of the numbers that come out but being a private school, there is a long history of football here… 86 years.

“We hear from those guys,” added Dainard. “I get text messages or e-mails from alumni that I share with players so that they get a sense of the history and tradition they are representing.”

“Win or lose, let’s go out and represent it well on and off the field.”

The Crusaders have won nine WHSFL titles since 1999 and have been especially dominant of late – going an incredible 58-2 in the last six years with four titles and the two losses coming in two other championship games, to Oak Park in 2014 and Vincent Massey in 2015.

But there are still a ton of question marks as the Crusaders open the ’17 campaign: Only 11 of 40 players are back from last year’s squad – including dominant offensive lineman Kyle Wilfer, running back Nick Peters and receiver Michael O’Shea.

As to who will be the starting quarterback…

“Ask me in a week,” said Dainard with a chuckle. “We graduated Riley Naujoks, who is playing for the Rifles and we have two really good options, one (Brody Lawson) is in Grade 11, the other (Te Jessie, son of former Bombers running back Tim Jessie) is in Grade 10. We’re a little bit younger there than we have been in the past.

“I was talking with both of them and in my time here, it seems like we’ve had an incumbent or a Grade 12 and a Grade 11 and it was very obvious who should be where. These guys are both young so you don’t want to, quote-unquote, give up on them too early. You want to continue to develop them, but at some point, one of them is going to demand, through their play and their effort, more of the game reps. But they’re also both really good athletes so how do we keep them practising at quarterback but use them in other ways to benefit the team.”

Even with those questions at a critical position, expect the Crusaders to be in the mix again come November.

“We have a competitive club, a club that has a lot of pride in what they do and how they perform,” said Dainard. “And because of the turnover, we have a club that is still finding its way, to be honest with you. It’s still about putting people together and fitting the pieces of the puzzle in place.

“If you ask the players, certainly the Grade 12 players will tell you they want to be in that championship game on November 10th, for sure. For me, it’s about getting the team to be excellent in everything they do, whether that’s in the weight room, on the field, watching film and being excellent classmates and students.”


THE WHSFL – WHAT’S NEW

The league was thrown a curveball last week when the Murdoch MacKay Clansmen opted to shut down their AAA program after losing six players – including their starting quarterback, running back and middle linebacker for the season – in training camp while others turned their attention to other sports, like track and field.

“It was the perfect storm for them, unfortunately,” said WHSFL Commissioner Rick Henkewich. “They probably could have gone into the school year, but without those guys it became difficult and there’s a safety issue on top of everything else. It’s unfortunate.”

There have been some other changes this year:

  • The Steinbach Sabres, three-time Vidruk Division (AA) finalists, have moved up to the Potter Division (AAA).
  • The West Kildonan Wolverines and Churchill Bulldogs have dropped down to the Currie Division (A).
  • Junior Varsity numbers continue to grow, with the nine-man league jumping from three to seven teams and 12-man moving from five to seven schools.

 

WHO TO WATCH IN THE WHSFL

Some names to keep an eye on this season:

  • Rain Slater, OL, St. John’s: Was named the top O-lineman in the WHSFL last year. Massive big man – 6-4, 320 – with provincial team experience who is already committed to North Dakota.
  • Eryk Bujalski, LB/L, Vincent Massey (Wpg).: Key to the Massey defence. Was named an all-star at the Football Canada Cup in Nova Scotia this summer.
  • Kieran Cummings, DT, Garden City: Recently named to Canada’s U-18 team. Two-time member of Manitoba’s U-18 team.
  • Brayden Desjarlais, RB Sisler: Led the WHSFL in rushing last year with 1,361 yards and seven TDs. North-south runner who can punish tacklers.
  • Tyler Koniuck, QB, Sisler: Outstanding speed, also quarterbacked the Spartans a year ago.
  • Dayton Black, QB, Neelin: Big pivot at 6-5, who is athletic enough to have also helped lead Neelin to a AAA JV volleyball title last November.
  • Nick Peters, RB, St Paul’s: Explosive ball carrier who has another gear when he hits a seam.

2016 IN REVIEW

Bowl Winners

ANAVET Bowl: St. Paul’s Crusaders
CTV Bowl: Steinbach Sabres
Canad Inns Bowl: Dryden Eagles
WHSFL Bowl: Kildonan East Reivers
Homerun Bowl (Junior Varsity): Vincent Massey Trojans

 

WHSFL WEEK 1 GAMES

Potter Division (AAA)

Thursday, September 7
Oak Park at Sturgeon, 5 p.m.

Friday, September 8
St. Paul’s at Sisler, 5 p.m.
Dakota at Steinbach, 5 p.m.
Garden City at Grant Park, 5 p.m.

Vidruk Division (AA)

Thursday, September 7
Kelvin at Portage, 5 p.m.
St. Paul’s at River East, 5 p.m.
Neelin at Vincent Massey Brandon, 5 p.m.

Friday, September 8
Dryden at Miles Mac, 4 p.m. (Eastside)
Elmwood at Crocus Plains, 5 p.m.

Currie Division (A)

Thursday, September 7
Churchill at Beaver Brae, 3 p.m.
St. John’s at West Kildonan, 5 p.m.
St. Norbert at Kildonan East, 5 p.m.

Friday, September 8
Fort Frances at Maples, 5 p.m.
Tec Voc at Daniel McIntyre, 5 p.m.


 

BLUEBOMBERS.COM WHSFL PLAYER PROFILE

Cody Gushulak

Team: Grant Park Pirates

Position: Running back and strong safety

Grade: 12

Years playing football: 4

Favourite show/movie: Friday Night Lights

Favourite football team: New York Giants & Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Your pre-game meal: Breakfast wrap

Your pre-game hype song: Gyalchester by Drake

Best personal moment in football (so far): My first touchdown vs Oak Park

Best advice you’ve received: You can’t or you won’t there is a big difference.

After high school, I hope to…: Play U Sports football and get a degree in Kinesiology at University of Calgary