Several members of Chilliwack Minor Football’s highly successful midget program are making the jump to junior football with the Huskers.
The team held a signing day Thursday night at Exhibition Stadium. Among the players putting their names to a B.C. Football Conference player contract was Cole Herrmann, perhaps the top defensive prospect available in the entire province.
Herrmann helped the midget Chilliwack Giants to a provincial title in 2009 and his non-stop motor may one day soon make him David Bosch V.2 for the Huskers.
Cody Parray quarterbacked that Giants provincial squad, and signs on with the Huskers as a wideout. He is trying to bounce back from a devastating shoulder injury suffered late last year.
Running back Josh Hayden is in the same boat, trying to re-establish himself after nagging injuries almost completely derailed his 2011 season.
Linebacker James Williams and wideout Dylan Boykowich also signed, providing Acheson with options in areas of weakness.
“Today is a great day and I’ve got a big smile on my face because not only are we signing six or seven Chilliwack players, but we’re signing six or seven of the best players Chilliwack has produced,” said Huskers head coach Luke Acheson. “And I think it goes to show what we’re doing with the Huskers, trying to turn that corner and change the reputation.”
It wasn’t an easy thing to swallow last year as Acheson watched a handful of top flight Chilliwack-raised football players leave for Nanaimo.
As the 2010 offseason unfolded, big offensive lineman Tyler Oldendorf left for the Island.
On opening day, the Raider roster included Ari Nakagawa, Evan Foster and Matt VanGeel.
All four would have looked awful good in Husker black.
All four spurned the local junior football team.
“I was a little bit frustrated about losing three or four super, super players,” Acheson admitted. “I knew we were going to have to prove to people that we were doing things right around here, and it wasn’t going to happen overnight.”
The bridge between CMFA and the Huskers was badly scorched during the Howie Zaron era.
The bombastic coach twice earned BCFC coach of the year nods, but his strengths were recruiting and football strategy, not building relationships.
“Perhaps I didn’t do enough to repair that bridge, because it was definitely broken,” Acheson said. “To think we were going to do that in one year was maybe unrealistic, but I feel great about it now. We’ve been out a bunch of times working with minor football and the little kids, and I get such a kick out of that. Those kids are amazing and it’s great to help them out.”
Hayden’s ability had him on the recruiting radar for several teams. Small but fast, shifty and hard-nosed, the tenacious running back said it was Chilliwack all the way when it came time to plot his football future.
“My whole thing is I’ve played here nine years and every offseason it wasn’t am I going to play for the Abbotsford Falcons or Mission Niners? It was always about playing for Chilliwack,” Hayden said. “There’s no reason for me to go anywhere else when there’s a junior team right across the road.”
Hayden’s big brother A.J. was an offensive lineman for the Huskers three years back, so there’s a family link as well.
“This is where all my friends and family are and I don’t want them to have to travel to see me play,” he said. “I went them to sit in these stands where I sat watching A.J. play. This was an easy decision for me.”
Though he joins a team coming off an 0-10 season, Hayden’s buying into the notion that much better days are ahead.
“They had 45 rookies last year, which means they have 45 guys this year who have experience,” he said. “All us new guys are going to join a team that’s young and skilled, with a few veterans to lead us. Last season’s record didn’t play into it at all.”
Gabe Marshalok joined the local contingent at the stadium on Thursday.
The Langley secondary school student was offered a tryout by the Langley (formerly South Surrey) Rams, now coached by former Huskers defensive coordinator Jeff Alamolhoda.
The Rams failed to impress and, after doing intensive research, Marshalok turned his sights to Chilliwack.
“This is a team that’s building and if I’m here for the next couple years it looks like the team will get progressively better,” Marshalok said. “Each year will be a step forward. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere where the core older guys are already there and I’d have no place. Getting here now will hopefully let me step forward with a new group of core players.”
Marshalok will try to crack the roster as a wideout or free safety, and he also brings ability as a place-kicker.
The kid has speed to spare, recently qualifying for the high school track and field provincials in sprinting.
“On kickoffs, my range is 60 to 70 yards, he said. “And for field goals, around 40 to 45 yards.”
Each of the new recruits, Marshalok included, talked about how they were attracted to Chilliwack’s family-first atmosphere.
While Nanaimo may win a lot of games and championships, the perception is that many players are little more than a helmet and a number. Acheson has gone out of his way to make players feel welcome and part of the team.
“The moment I took the job, I knew it had to be a family thing for me to run it,” Acheson said. “I love every one of these players and I don’t bring a coach on if he doesn’t share the same philosophy that we care about these guys and want them to be successful.”
While the team keeps winning as the big picture goal, Acheson said every player’s individual goals are part of it. Whether they just want to play ball or advance up the football ladder, the Huskers want to be involved.
“All 60 of these guys, we’ll sit down and find out what their goals, dreams and aspirations are, and we’ll make it our goal to make it happen,” Acheson said. “It is a team and family thing and that’s the way it has to be.”
Huskers training camp starts in early July.
Get more information on the team online at www.chilliwackhuskers.org.