The head coach of the Eric Hamber Griffins is talking a hard line and talking tough. The AA varsity program launched at the Oak Street high school four seasons ago, and Bobby Gibson will no longer call the Griffins an expansion team. Gone is the label and with it excuses.
“We’ve had a lot of time over the years where we’ve been a new program and were young and didn’t have players,” Gibson said Friday afternoon after a 14-0 loss at home to the Timberline Wolves. “We’re not making any excuses any more.”
Timberline scored on the final play of the third quarter after a gritty, evenly played stalemate. In the fourth frame, the Griffins began to break.
The coach’s post-game talk did not cheerfully emphasize the reasons each player could be proud of his commitment and efforts. In years one, two and even year three last season when the Griffins were placed in the more competitive Tier I, Gibson motivated his charges with characteristic optimism.
The buoyant tone from last season has been subdued, subbed out for a message more difficult to hear and deliver.
Don’t be satisfied, Gibson warns the Griffins.
“If you expect to win, you play like a winner,” he said. “You should expect that and if it doesn’t happen, you shouldn’t be happy about that.”
Hamber wasn’t ready to move to the higher tier in 2012, said the coach, but the decision was out of his control as it has been with other teams in the past. “We weren’t ready for it,” he said. “Last year was a really difficult season for us.”
In five regular season games, the Griffins’ high point came with the single touchdown they scored in a 6-49 loss to Belmont on Sept. 28. They allowed their opponents 229 points.
No one on the roster is looking back, least of all quarterback James Hanoomansingh. He embraces what his coach is saying.
“We can’t continue to make excuses,” he wrote to the Courier. “We know what we are up against and we need to accept it, play hard and try to win games. There is no point dwelling on what we don’t have. I am just glad we have a team.”
The right-handed pivot is also the Griffins’ safety on defence because, like all players, he has to go both ways. On Friday against Timberline, the Griffins started with 17 players — two more than the week before — but lost four to injury during the game.
Adding to the injuries, the familiar faces of former players looked down from the stands. Gibson pointed them out to the Griffins who still donned their school colours. Playing is hard, he told them. Commitment is hard.
“Sitting up in the stands is easy,” he said. “It’s easy to be a spectator and be the critic in the stands. There’s lots of guys up where who say, ‘I shoulda played and I coulda played.’”
Hanoomansingh, now in Grade 12, was one of five quarterbacks last year but after some graduated and others didn’t return, the starting spot is his. Walking away from the team after a challenging 2012 season was not something he considered, he said.
“I love football and I don’t think anyone who quit can say the same,” said the 17-year-old. I value the game and know that high school was and will probably be my only opportunity to play tackle football. There is no way that I can pass up on that opportunity, regardless of the team’s struggles.
“No one likes losing and I don’t enjoy it. But if we go out there with the numbers we have and truly give it our all, I can’t ask for any more from my team. If we don’t get the win, I am not totally satisfied but I am not going to get too down about it. I will only be upset if I feel like I haven’t done my best of if others on the team haven’t given it all.”
With comments like these, it’s understandable why Gibson identifies Hanoomansingh as a natural leader.
“He has everything else that you could want in a quarterback but he’s come into it late and he hasn’t had a lot of time to develop his throwing,” said Gibson. “The leadership qualities that he has, you just don’t teach those. Even as a guy who had never played quarterback, last year he jumped into the huddle and everybody snapped to attention. If he had a better arm, he’d have schools asking him to go play for them.”
Hanoomansingh, six-foot tall and 180 pounds, doesn’t want for confidence, the coach said, noting swagger is an important trait in a winning QB. “The reality is you need a bit of that if you’re going to be running a football team.”
The Eric Hamber student council will host a pep rally for the Griffins homecoming 3:30 p.m. Friday before they host Moscrop in the final exhibition game of the pre-season.
Watch for Bobby Gibson in the opening scene of this student council video:
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