Bay Roberts' gridiron gang

Nicholas Mercer
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As the sun is beginning its final descent through the sky above Bay Roberts on July 22, an unfamiliar sound can be heard.

 

Football NL technical director Brian Hughes (left) instructs Taylor Norman on the some of the finer points to kicking a football.

Trudging up the gravel path leading to the soccer field at Ascension Collegiate, you first hear the sound of footballs whistling through the cool evening air.

Peering out onto the lush, green field, an older man is tossing footballs to eight players.

That man is Brian Hughes, the president/technical director of Football Newfoundland and Labrador.

He is wearing a dark polo with white trim on the shoulder. A crest of a snarling Cougar is on the chest with the words Notre Dame Football above and below the fearsome cat.

It is the crest of Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School football program found in Burlington, Ont.

With a pair of dark shorts and baseball cap, Hughes looks like a football coach and he is hoping to bring the game to Bay Roberts.

 

The players

Hughes, along with coach Tom Fleming, is running eight players through their paces this evening. It is the second practice in the region since last week. That number is down from the last one, but that’s due to other commitments.

With each repetition, Hughes slaps the ball and yells ‘Go!’

As he does, the next player in line dashes toward the pylon, makes a hard cut to their left and looks for the ball. At the moment when they cut, Hughes hoists the ball with his right hand, lofting it towards the runner in hopes it will reach them in the right spot.

Sometimes the ball is caught, sometimes it isn’t. Either way, Hughes offers subtle hints and tips for their next trip.

One of those players running through the drills is 14-year-old Andrew Saunders. He, along with Joe Karam, made the initial call to Football NL expressing their interest.

“We were just really interested in football,” he said.

So, the two used Google to look for groups in their area and found Football NL.

 

The game

Football NL plays a game designed to get players involved. It is six-on-six full contact sport and welcomes boys and girls ages eight to 18.

They provide the equipment, all they ask is players come with a desire to learn a new game.

“We want to grow the sport off the Avalon,” said Hughes.

With that interest in mind and after receiving the phone calls, the coach thought it would be better served to run practices out of Bay Roberts.

Football is foreign to Newfoundland. It is a popular television sport to many of the residents, and there are a couple of men’s touch football leagues in the capital city.

But as for a grassroots program, there is very little of it being played at the minor level.

Football NL is still in its infancy, having been around since 2013.

A Bay Roberts entry would ensure a four-team league, and give them the best chance of growing the game.

“We’d like to see … that the sport grows,” said Hughes.

A Green Bay Packers fan, Saunders only exposure to the gridiron has been television and video games.

“We just really wanted to play,” he said.

The next practice is scheduled for Aug. 19 at the Ascension field in Bay Roberts at 6:30 p.m.

nmercer@cbncompass.ca

Organizations: Football Newfoundland and Labrador, Catholic Secondary School, Google Green Bay Packers

Geographic location: Bay Roberts, Notre Dame, Burlington Newfoundland

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