It’s the opening week of the Ontario Football Conference season for the Sault Sabercats junior varsity team.
On the heels of a 7-1 season last summer, the JV Sabercats open action on Saturday afternoon against Oakville in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Superior Heights.
“It comes up fast,” Sabercats coach Jim Monico said of the season opener. “But we’re ready. We’ve got a young team. We’re pretty inexperienced in that we only return four or five starters, but we like what we have. We’ve got most of the best players in this age group so we’re pretty happy with that.”
After practice time both indoors and on the field at Superior Heights, Monico spoke of the anticipation of a new season with the young group.
“There’s some nervous anticipation,” Monico said. “It’s a little different for a lot of guys who have never played in this league. Home games, we have a pretty good atmosphere so in that regard, the players don’t know what to expect. It’s a little bit different than high school ball. It’s up a level for a lot of guys, especially guys that have only played junior ball before.”
Despite the inexperience of playing at the OFC level for some players, the new season brings plenty of optimism for the team.
“I don’t think we have a lot of holes,” Monico said. “We have good players in pretty much every spot. That’s really important for us. We’re going to be versatile on offence. We’re going to be able to run and throw. The defence is pretty sound all the way through. We’re a very athletic defence.”
The ability to combine a throwing game with the ability to run is key.
“It’s really important in any three-down ball,” Monico said of the Sabercats ability to run and throw. “We have Ryan Barnes at quarterback. He was at D-line last year and he was lineman of the year in junior football, but he can really throw and he knows the game really well. He has a high football IQ. His biggest hurdle early on is going to be game experience as a quarterback in reading defences and playing against different opponents but in the long run, he’s going to do a really good job. We’re excited about him.”
“Michael Nicoletta is one of the best players in the city in his age group and Gabe Barkley is really good athletically,” Monico also said. “We have a good receiving corps too so we’re really excited about that.”
The JV Sabercats will open the season on Saturday afternoon against a Titans team that struggled last summer, but that won’t change the locals approach to its opponent.
“They’re a big market so you never know what they’re going to get (player-wise),” Monico said. “We’re preparing that they’re going to be a good team and that’s the way we’re going to look at everybody.”
After Saturday’s opener, the Sabercats hit the road for a pair of games, traveling to Sarnia on May 25 and Chatham on June 1 before returning home for back-to-back games.