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Abbotsford Panthers aiming to claw their way to the Subway Bowl

Photos courtesy of Gibi Saini

The Abbotsford Senior Panthers may be the most slept on team early on in the BC high school football season.

A perfect 4-0 so far this season, long-time coach Jay Fujimura seems to have a team this year that can compete for silverware by the end of the season.

“We were a young team last year,” he said talking to BC Sports Hub. “We had some expectations to work [on] in the offseason and improve from last year, [namely] make the playoffs and improve from there.”

Fujimura, a former SFU football player, came to Abby Senior to restart their football program back in 2008. Before then, he was a coach at Holy Cross out in Surrey. “The opportunity to restart a football program really appealed to me” he explained.

And despite being a relatively new program, they produced one of the best players in recent BC high school football season. Chase Claypool is now applying his trade at Notre Dame and is arguably one of the best wide receivers in college football.

“I touch base with him all the time after each game,” Fujimura said beaming through the phone. “Everyone at Abby, all the coaches are really proud of him, we know how hard he’s worked to get to the position he has. Even though he goes to a big-time program there’s a lot of things that go into it, it’s never been easy for him. He’s accepted all that and succeeded through it all.”

Back to this rendition of the Panthers, they were a young team last season as they were mostly comprised of grade 11’s. They only lost about “three to four starters” from last year, and last year moved up to the AAA division.

The usual challenge before the start of the season — gelling together as a team — was done with. They just had to focus on the little things.

“I think we just gained some experience from last year,” said Fujimura. “Since we are all grade 11s, and it was the first year of us being in the east in AAA, I think there was a big difference in how the game was going to feel compared to double AA.

That learning curve thrown in, it was tough for us at times, getting used to it. I think this year with a bit more experience under them, I think they will be able to adjust and handle the sort of physicality that AAA brings."

The Panthers are off to a perfect start, and Fujimura says that is due to the work the players have put in throughout the season.

“I think the key is we’re working well as a team,” he explained. “We have a very strong running back, but even he knows that the little things that we do and the details we work on in practice that’s a big key to success. So I think ourselves having confidence as a team that we can run the ball and do different things, play defence aggressively, and just have faith in what our gameplans are. I think doing those things has really helped us this year.”

Looking forward, Abby has a tough stretch of games they will have to deal with. They play Lord Tweedsmuir this Friday, followed by Saint Thomas More on the 11th and then Terry Fox on the 19th. How they do in this crucial stretch can really determine what this team is capable of.

“We have to have good weeks of practice and maintain our focus,” said Fujimura, “whether or not we’re playing any team. I think Kelowna is a very underrated team, they’re doing very well in our conference. That game, to go up there — they had a great crowd at the Apple Bowl — I think getting through that is going to help us prepare for this next little stretch.

We just have to get through this stretch and be tough. Good things will happen if you have faith, and I believe if we just keep doing the things that we’re doing things might be pretty good for us and the end of October.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Jalem Catlin is the main running threat and arguably the best in the entire province — he’s averaging just over 270 yards per game on the ground and has 11 touchdowns already. David Coronado is the team’s main threat out wide. Defensively, they’re led by linebacker Jordan Hogg.

Abby plays Lord Tweedsmuir this Friday at 1:00 pm at Lord Tweedsmuir. Make sure to follow us on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more coverage throughout the season.

Written by: Nick Bondi

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