GW Graham’s high school football teams kick off their regular seasons this week, with the senior squad visiting Abbotsford secondary school Friday night.
The juniors opened Wednesday against Rick Hansen, in a game played after Progress press deadlines.
Both teams have high expectations coming into the year, particularly the juniors, who have been ranked No. 1 in the province throughout the preseason.
Grizzlies head coach Laurie Smith hopes for great things on the field, but he places just as much emphasis on what his players do off the field.
With more than 100 involved at the senior, junior and Grade 8 levels, Smith sees a huge opportunity to change lives for the better.
“When we started this, we wanted to do a program that was about graduating exceptional student athletes,” he said.
Academically, Grizzly players are expected to attend classes, study hard and meet expectations in their classes. Every two weeks, the players must collect grade-checks from all of their teachers and submit those to the coaching staff.
A study hall is set up, and players have access to tutoring and mentorship, with four teachers committed to helping out.
But academics is only part of it.
Smith and company have each player sign a contract before they can play for the team.
“The contract is about setting expectations, and saying, ‘We want you guys to make better choices,’” Smith explained. “There are lots of distractions for kids ages 14-18 and we understand that. We just want them to be aware that their choices have consequences.”
The first couple paragraphs cover those academic expectations.
The next few cover respect for teammates, teachers, coaches, parents and the community.
Then it gets into on-field behaviour — respect for rules, officials and opponents — how the Grizzlies want to conduct themselves between the sidelines.
The most interesting parts of the contract comes at the end, starting with social media.
“We actually had a social media guy come in here, set up a big screen and find garbage on all of our guys,” Smith chuckled. “Somebody smoking a joint or somebody with a beer. And he’s like, ‘This is what future recruiters and employees will see. Anyone can find this stuff, and once you put this stuff out there, it’s there.’”
“We want them to understand that going to the next level, coaches will look for character,” he added. “They’ll have a dozen kids who can do everything on the field that you can do, but they don’t want problems. They’ll look for kids who won’t give them problems.”
The drugs and alcohol clause is a major part of the contract, and it’s a major issue with teenagers. While Smith believes in redemption and wants to be forgiving, there’s zero tolerance for this violation.
“I understand that I am making a commitment to the GW Graham Football team,” the contract states. “As a member of that team I am not only making a commitment to the team, but also to the athletics department and the school. I will fulfill my commitment on and off the field to the best of my abilities. I also understand that any violation on my part, of any of the athletic rules, may result in loss of privileges, suspension from school teams, and/or school suspensions.
“I’ve had players come up to me and ask if there’s going to be mandatory drug testing and I say, ‘No. no. But it’s not a bad idea!,” Smith laughed. “But, if they’re going to sign a contract and not abide by it, we can’t have that on our team. It impacts the integrity of the contract and the integrity of the program.”
The bench boss is aware the contract may lead to headaches for the coaching staff. What happens if they get to week five of the regular season and find themselves without a key starter or three?
How easy will it be to prioritize integrity with a playoff spot hanging in the balance? The coach hopes his players don’t put him in that position.
“I hope we don’t. I hope it works out really well and I’ve told them a thousand times it’s in their best interests,” he said. ”
Smith’s junior and senior crews play their home openers in double-header style, next Friday night at Exhibition Stadium.
Check grahamfootball.ca for more info.