For the Jugglers, it was a less than ideal beginning to the season.
A 35-0 loss to longtime Saint Thomas More during exhibition play would have likely sent many team’s season off the rails. But for the Notre Dame Jugglers, the exact opposite happened. They rattled off six straight wins after that and with a win against Vancouver College this Friday, will finish in first place in the Western Conference.
“We stopped underestimating teams” said quarterback Will Clarke on what changed for his team after that humbling defeat. “We respect teams a bit more and now we’re ready to go every game and we’re in the mindset to play better. I don’t think there is any different physically but we’re just in a better mindset to play now.
“I think just our attitude [changed]” said Cameron Mah, linebacker and offensive linemen in grade 12. “After that game it took us down a notch and we knew we had to work a lot harder than we were before. It humbled us to work harder than we had before. So far we’ve come in clutch through some pretty big games and we’re on quite a good roll so far.”
Perhaps the signature moment of that run was a statement win against New Westminster, the third ranked team in the province at the time and of course the defending provincial championship. The Jugglers drove 90 yards down the field to score a touchdown to win it, and send a message to rest of the high school football community that they were for real.
“That was a crazy game” said Clarke. I was so in the moment I didn’t really realize how close it actually was until the game was over. [. . .] It was a tough game to play because New West’s offence is really confusing at times. But we pulled it through and I was really happy for our team.”
“He was suppose to run to the left and see if he could get in” said head coach Dennis Kelly laughing. “He saw it cut off, circled back to the right and he just had the exact angle he needed to get to the right pylon before the New West guys got there. I was [really] happy when the referee raised his hands for the touchdown.”
Notre Dame is one of a handful of high school players where one must respect the storied past and live up to expectations in the present. When one puts on that blue jersey, there is a standard that has to be lived up to.
“Oh definitely” said Clarke on if there’s pressure to live up to past glory. “It’s a family atmosphere and there’s a lot of history with our football program. When we put on this jersey it really means something and I think the guys know that.”
Kelly credits the culture set by two former coaches still involved, George Oswald and Bill Cole, with setting the bar of what Juggler football is suppose to be.
“They sort of set the standard themselves because they have had a lot of success in the program, and I think the school has come to expect a certain level of performance” he explained talking to BC Sports Hub at a team’s practice.
“That was one of the reasons I took the job is that I enjoy the game and enjoy coaching and enjoy living up to those standards. It kind of makes the program what is is, that you have to consider the past success as well as what you’re doing in the present.”
One of the biggest parts of the past and the present? A lengthy rivalry with Vancouver College and an annual game called the Archbishop’s Cup. It’s one of the most intense in high school football, dating back to when Notre Dame started its football program back in the 1950’s.
“There was a long time there when Notre Dame was dominant and recently there’s been a long time when [Vancouver] College was dominant” explained Kelly. “It’s always been a very competitive game and it’s great for both schools. It’s a good rallying point for the year and it sets the tone for the playoffs because you have that feeling of getting up for a big game.”
“We’re both Vancouver, East side West side” said Mah. “They were on a run, I think it was 13 straight Archbishop’s cups. Last two years we’ve won them and we’re trying to get our way back into that.
It’s a big rivalry. You’ll never catch me wearing anything purple and gold, that’s just the way it is.”
The next chapter of this rivalry will be written this Friday at Burnaby Lakes Sports Complex. Kickoff is at 7:30pm.
Written by: Nick Bondi