In the decade since Elmira District Secondary School re-established its football program, interest in the sport has grown in leaps and bounds.
From a fledgling team working to build up a foundation and attract the school’s best athletes, the Lancers senior squad now competes at the region’s highest level; and they’re getting closer and closer to capturing their first Waterloo County Secondary School Athletics championship.
With a number of WCSSAA finals and semi-final berths in the last number of years, it’s clear the school’s senior team boasts talented football players.
Now, those athletes make the jump to the university ranks, playing Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) football at McMaster, the University of Waterloo and Western.
“The best thing is that the kids are really taking (football) seriously now,” said Steve Karn, the head coach of the senior team who played a major role in bringing the sport back to EDSS. “We see that they’re working out and doing the things outside of school that they need to do to be prepared for the football season; that’s really encouraging.”
Being able to introduce students to the game, which isn’t widely played at the youth level in the region, has been a rewarding experience, Karn added.
“It has definitely sparked the interest for a lot of guys. And now we’ll see them start to play for the (Kitchener-Waterloo) Predators – a competitive, under-19 team that plays in the Ontario Football League – and even make it all the way to the university level.”
EDSS standouts like Taz Martin and Mitch Kernick both earned scholarships to play for the University of Waterloo Warriors in recent years. Next year, last season’s star fullback and middle linebacker Alex Weber could join them, since he has been recruited by the school’s coaching staff.
And the remarkable thing is, without Karn and the coaching staff’s efforts to start the program, those players might never have played football to begin with, let alone received scholarships to play at the country’s highest level for amateur athletics.
But even with a well coached and supported squad at EDSS, it’s still a tough transition to make the jump from high school ball to the CIS ranks.
“Everything is a step up, whether it’s the size of the players and their skill level to the speed of the game,” Kernick explained.
Martin concurred, “it’s the best of the best from high school; everyone is bigger and stronger. You really have to work hard to compete at the next level.”
To make that leap, both suggested that players aspiring to be CIS athletes work hard at both the junior and senior high school levels, while also spending time working out at the gym to build strength and speed.
That way, you’ve got a fighting chance at getting recruited by the Predators, which is where players in the region go to really hone their skills.
“I’d definitely recommend younger guys to play summer ball with the Preds,” Kernick said. “The coaches at EDSS do a great job teaching the fundamentals of the sport. If you can add to that with some time playing on the Predators, it’ll go a long way.”
Last season, the senior Lancers went 5-2 during the regular season, before injuries mounted and the squad fell in the WCSSA quarter-finals.
Like all high school athletics, teams are constantly rebuilding as the top players age out and move on. But now that the groundwork has been done and interest in the sport is soaring, there’s a good chance the Lancers will stay competitive for years to come.