In the second week of the Grade 8 boys football season on Oct. 2, Notre Dame was handed a numbing 59-34 loss at the hands of Lord Tweedsmuir.
Four out of every five players on the Jugglers freshman squad were new to the gridiron game, said head coach Joe Garcea. In May he started spring training for elementary school boys ready to graduate to Notre Dame and found “some had no idea how to put a helmet on.”
seven weeks into the fall football season on Nov. 2, Notre Dame faced a rematch against Lord Tweedsmuir. The Jugglers shut them out 30-0 to win a ticket to the 2012 Subway Bowl football championship.
Garcea knew his 13- and 14-year-old charges were ready before the kickoff when he stood outside their locker room and stopped his pre-game pep talk before it even started.
“I didn’t have to. There was a leader in that room who stood up and said a few words.”
He’s still not sure who spoke. It could have been a number of different boys.
“I was about to walk in the locker room and I heard this kid stand up and raise his voice and start talking. I didn’t understand all the words that were said but instead of entering […], I just listened.
“The part I did hear was: ‘How bad do you guys want this? Who are we playing for? We can beat these guys.’ From there all the kids started to get up and make some noise. You know what — I knew I didn’t have to say anything. I knew those kids were ready.”
With the win, Notre Dame returns to the freshman football championships for the first time since 1985, the last of three consecutive championship titles for the East Side Catholic school.
In 15 years of coaching, Garcea says he’s never led a team like this cohort of Jugglers.
His coaching staff relies on volunteers, namely parents and Notre Dame alumni, including graduates of the UBC T-birds program and CFL professionals like former B.C. Lion Rob Moretto and one-time Hamilton Ti-Cat Peter Buchanan. Both their sons play for the Jugglers.
Coaches are responsible for introducing novices to complex and highly skilled game of football, only to see them move on to junior teams next year. It’s rewarding, said Garcea, but bonds are short-lived. The players, however, build connections that can last the next five years of high school and even long after graduation.
“One of the things we preach is about being a brother,” said Garcea. “What would you do to help your brother, protect your brother in the game of football? What would you do to make your brother successful?”
At Notre Dame, the Jugglers have answered these questions.
Notre Dame meets Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham in the Grade 8 Subway Bowl championship at 8 a.m. Dec. 1 at B.C. Place Stadium.