Barring injury

Barring injury

Fearless pivot leads first-year Grizzlies

Kirkland Kennedy is the man behind center for the fledgling GW Graham junior varsity football team.

There appears to be no shortage of confidence where Kirkland Kennedy is concerned.

The 15-year-old who will quarterback GW Graham’s fledgling junior varsity football team in year one has enthusiasm to spare and unabiding faith in his and his teammates’ abilities.

“Kirkland, your team is getting noticed,” says the reporter. “You’re slotted in at number three in the preseason rankings, which is surprising. Do you think its deserved?”

“I think we’re a first place team,” Kennedy answers. “I think it’s good because it’ll get other teams thinking we’re great, and then we can prove we’re great.”

“Kirkland, you’re part of the rebirth of high school football in Chilliwack, something this town hasn’t had in three decades,” the reporter continues. “What’s it like being a key part of that process?”

“I was going to go to Abbotsford (W.J. Mouat) before GWG got a team, but this is great now because it’s right beside my house,” Kennedy says. “It’s kind of nerve-wracking and the pressure’s pretty good. But it’s fun. I like it.”

“Kirkland, your team  faces the highly regarded Mission Roadrunners in your first regular season game,” says the reporter. “You guys feel any intimidation facing the second ranked team in B.C. right out of the gate?”

“Mission’s going to be a…”

“Actually Kirkland, we’d better stop you right there,” the reporter jumps in. “I see a vein popping out of your coach’s forehead that I haven’t seen before.”

Though Kennedy clearly hasn’t mastered the art of not providing bulletin board material to opponents, his confidence is far more useful than damaging to the Grizzlies.

The best quarterbacks — the ones you want to go to war with — are the ones who believe that no matter the situation, they can succeed.

Think of Joe Montana in the 1989 Super Bowl versus Cincinnati.

Down three with 3:32 left and starting from their own eight yard line, Montana walked into the huddle and said to his startled teammates, “‘There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp. Isn’t that John Candy?’”

Ninety two yards and 2:46 later, the 49ers were champs.

When the bullets are flying, it’s nice to have a guy who knows he can get it done.

“We expect our leaders to be the first one into the fight,” Smith said. “We’ve been preaching competitiveness, and there’s no one more competitive than him. He spends the time off the field, in the gym and throwing the ball. He’s intense and he wants his teammates to put in the same effort. I think he’s going to be a great leader for our team.”

If Kennedy’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s been all over the minor football updates the last few years.

Athletically, Smith couldn’t have found a better fit to run GWG’s spread-option offence. Kennedy has the arm to threaten defences through the air and the mobility to gash them on the ground.

The only question is whether Kennedy’s got what it takes between the ears.

GWG’s offence is some tricky business to run.

When Smith’s offensive coordinator, Manitoba import Adam Smith, first pitched it to him, the head coach was far from sold. Traditionally, high school football is heavy on run and light on pass.

But Smith wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t think he had the right field general.

“I didn’t think it would be successful at the junior varsity level,” Smith admitted. “But we’ve got the receivers to make it work and the quarterback to make it work. They get hundreds of reps each day, catching and throwing the football and they’ve improved dramatically.  It’s something we can run and run with success.”

The hiccups have shown up in preseason games where the offence has struggled at times and shown flashes of brilliance at others.

The Grizzlies travelled south for some exhibition friendlies against U-S opponents, and more than held their own.

“Those teams had 250 pound cornerbacks blitzing off the edge on every play, which was a bit scary,” Kennedy said. “But we did okay. We’ve come extremely far the last few months, from like a two to, I’d say a nine.”

“It was a step up in competition playing some of those American teams, and in some games we got destroyed,” Smith added. “But we also tied a team from Seattle (Eastlake), which is a good team. Against good teams that can close down the running game, passing can be a great equalizer.”

Smith takes preseason rankings for what they are, numbers on a piece of paper that mean nothing.

He believes in what his eyes see, and he’s seen his team improve by leaps and bounds since they first got together in April.

“We had a lot of work to do and it’s a complete credit to our amazing coaches that we are where we are,” Smith said. “I doubt many people are putting any stock in those rankings, and we’ll do our talking on the field.”

GWG has three more preseason tests.

They’re in Oregon today preparing for a Saturday afternoon game against the Colton Vikings.

Next Thursday they’re in Surrey to take on the Earl Marriott Mariners.

On Sept. 12 they’re in Nanaimo to take on the highly-regarded John Barsby Bulldogs.

Things get real Sept. 20 when they face Mission’s Roadrunners  in the season opener.

The home opener is the following week (Sept. 27) when GWG faces the Robert Bateman Timberwolves.

“I’m not planning on a parade for the provincial championship,” Smith said, when asked about expectations. “But I am planning on being competitive, and to be in every game no matter who we’re playing.”

GWG will play six regular season games in the Fraser Valley East league with home games against Abbotsford Collegiate (Oct. 24) and Pitt Meadows (Oct. 31) and road games against Rick Hansen (Oct. 3) and Samuel Robertson (Oct. 10).

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