On the losing end of three blowouts, the AA varsity Hamber Griffins are a hard-luck football team determined to create a culture of winning even if they continue to lose.
Hosting the Valleyview Vikings at their school's Oak Street grandstands on Friday afternoon before the Thanksgiving weekend, the Griffins gave up seven touchdowns. The Vikes converted for two points with each score and won 48-6.
The Vikings' first drive played out like the rest of the four quarters: Hamber showed impressive displays of talent and team cohesion but followed with lapses in energy and focus.
First down, Valleyview ran the ball but gained no ground against the Griffins defense. Second down, linesman Hakan Williams laid a destructive hit in the backfield, stuffing the runner as he took the toss for a loss of five. Third and 15 on their own 35-yard line, Valleyview threw for 30 yards.
Hamber created two fumbles but didn't recover the ball. Two plays into the second quarter, Valleyview scored.
Before the afternoon game, Hamber head coach Bobby Gibson said the Griffins find victories in small success. "We talk about it. You don't try to win the game, you try to win each play. We try to recognize guys who have gone out and won their job on separate plays."
The average player finds himself working more than one job, he said. "Honestly, each kid probably has to know how to play three or four on offence and defence, so, seven or eight positions they need to know how to play."
An expansion team in 2010, the Griffins played Tier II last year and finished 1-4 with 48 points in their favour and 229 against. The varsity team counts 14 Grade 10 students on 28-player roster, and on Oct. 3, the junior varsity Griffins won their opening regular season game 20-16 over Langley.
Hamber's single touchdown was delivered late in the fourth quarter. David Haeber, a running back for the Vancouver Trojans community football team, was shifted to quarterback for the Griffins. They ran the option most plays, Haeber's legs pumping like pistons. With four minutes to play, Haeber marshalled a drive of 60 yards, and ran most of them himself to reach the end zone.
The score erased the shut-out but not the sting of the loss, he said.
"It didn't feel that good. I don't like scoring when were losing," said the Grade 10 student, a friendly smile on his face despite his words. "I live for my team. I was angry. I said to my guys, 'You'd better block for me. I'm going to score. You do you job, I'll do my job.' The next play, I scored. It came to teamwork."
The Griffins met for a somber huddle after the loss. The serious chat wasn't the usual vibe after a game.
Gibson addressed the players: "I told you at the beginning of the season that I would not ever quit on you guys. And I stand by that."
He said afterwards, "It's something new this time because once you start to accept losing, then it becomes your culture. So sometimes, it's OK to tell these kids that losing is not OK."
Building a football program, and as the only public school in Vancouver to do so, comes with a learning curve that Gibson believes will benefit the school and its reputation for competitive athletics. But first he wants more people share his confidence. Classmates and teachers who ask players, "How much did you lose by," hardly inspire winning morale.
"The biggest thing is the belief in themselves," said the coach. "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that they think about coming out here for a game. People in the school here, they don't have a lot of belief in us either. And we haven't always put up results on the scoreboard but we're going through some growing pains and a little bit of extra support could go a long way for these guys."
Asking his Griffins for commitment and listing his own personal sacrifices, he set up a practice for 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Monday. The players whose hands didn't shoot up to show they would attend were interrogated by their teammates. "Can you get a ride?" "No one's eating turkey that early."
Haeber also addressed his teammates. He said afterwards, "We're feeling hungry. We're hungry for that win. We come out every day, work hard and we just want that win."
VARSITY AAA FOOTBALL
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One week after becoming the winningest coach in Vancouver College (1-1) history with his 100th victory, Todd Bernett's Fighting Irish lost 32-54 to Mount Douglas (2-0) in Victoria.