By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Feature photo by: Canadafootballchat
Over the next month, manitobafootballfeed will be previewing each of the 31 varsity teams battling for supremacy in the Winnipeg High School Football League, which kicks off its regular season on Wednesday, Sept. 5. Below is a breakdown of the Grant Park Pirates.
Team: Grant Park Pirates
Head Coach: Doug Kovacs, 8th year
Conference/Division: Potter Conference, Division 1
2017 Regular Season Record: 4-2-1
2017 Playoff Record: 0-1, lost in quarterfinal to Vincent Massey
Beginning in 2011 with the first championship banner in school history, Doug Kovacs has consistently had his Grant Park Pirates in playoff contention. Last year’s squad was loaded with seniors, but due in part to poor timing in terms of injuries, the school fell in the opening round of the playoffs.
The first round defeat hurt a little more than normal though, due to the fact that the team graduated 22 seniors that year. With that in mind, many new faces will have to step up for a team that continues to be a tough out, despite being the smallest division 1 school in the league.
The biggest storyline offensively for Grant Park will revolve around the quarterback position. Senior Wyatt Barber was pencilled in to be the guy, until a severe injury sidelined his career.
If Barber cannot go in 2018, the pivot duties will go to either junior Luc Rodrigues or sophomore Nik Hasselfield.
Rodrigues is a versatile athlete, who along with tossing the pigskin, can also return kicks and placekick.
Hasselfield, standing at six-foot-two, has a cannon for an arm as well as a long history of family excellence in the sport. His older brothers Stefan and Christoff excelled at Churchill and Grant Park, respectively. Their father David was also a talented coach for many years with the Crescentwood Grizzlies and Fort Gary Lions.
Offensive lineman Josh Sosiak and Liam Orchard are the only two returning starters offensively for the Pirates.
“Josh is a veteran center that has played since he was in grade eight. He is strong, reliable and smart,” Kovacs said. “Liam will be moving to tackle and could challenge for the Kas Vidruk award.”
Kovacs has always employed a multi-option offence during his time with the Pirates, and that will continue in 2018.
One of the most notable players to keep an eye out for in Grant Park’s multi-option sets will be running back Ridley Coppens. He had the opportunity to develop under talented senior Cody Gushulak, who is now with the Winnipeg Rifles, and according to Kovacs, “has been chomping at the bit to get in for a year.” Coppens has also made the weight room his home over the summer, and will be tough to bring down in space.
At the receiver position, slotback Brett Westra will be a player to look out for as a possible x-factor. Kovacs hails him as a “dynamic and fast player with great hands and U SPORTS size already.”
If you factor in Barber’s injury, the Pirates will have just one returning starter in 2018 in versatile LB/DB Jacob Sanchez who, due to so many new faces, will be relied upon to make plays on a consistent basis. He is also an option for the team at punter.
“Jacob is a shut-down, multi-talented athlete that can play linebacker or defensive back,” Kovacs said. “He is great hitter and his coverage skills are excellent.”
The Pirates also have a number of talented players who Kovacs and his staff can likely bring out the best in.
Linebacker Eli Simkin impressed last year, and “will be counted on to make plays,” according to Kovacs.
Fellow linebacker Luca Imbrongo is a stellar athlete with what Kovacs calls “speed galore, galore, galore!” He is also an accomplished kicker.
Spencer Stark and Will Smith look to be the focus of attention on the defensive line for Grant Park.
“Spencer Stark, is a large defensive end with range and a mean streak,” said Kovacs.
Will Smith, who Kovacs believes is a future Kas vidruk winner, is “a big body defensive lineman that can two gap most offenses and rush the passer.”
Short and long term goals
Kovacs has consistently preached patience, and getting better one day at a time, and that mantra won’t change this year.
“Our short term Goal is to beat Dakota on May 31 and remain injury free,” he said. “Our long term goal is to win the Division 1 Championship in November.”