Barsby Bulldogs AA varsity offensive lineman Cody Maasanen and his teammates push around the blocking sled on Thursday night at practice at John Barsby Secondary School field. The ’Dawgs kick off the pre-season on Friday (Sept. 9).

Barsby Bulldogs AA varsity offensive lineman Cody Maasanen and his teammates push around the blocking sled on Thursday night at practice at John Barsby Secondary School field. The ’Dawgs kick off the pre-season on Friday (Sept. 9).

Back to school suits Barsby Bulldogs

NANAIMO – School hasn't even started yet, but football has been in session for two weeks already for the John Barsby Bulldogs.

School hasn’t even started yet, but football has been in session for two weeks already.

The John Barsby Bulldogs and high school varsity teams around the province get an early start every summer. Rob Stevenson, coach of the Bulldogs, said his players have shown they were anxious to get back on the gridiron. With the varsity and junior varsity squads practising together, it’s added up to more than 60 guys every night.

“Our attendance and effort have been stellar … and progress, top to bottom,” he said. “The veterans are getting better, the new additions are really picking it up and I think the coaching staff is really jelling, as well.”

All the province’s best football programs have been putting in the work in the two weeks before Labour Day, so the ’Dawgs have tried to ensure they make the most of their practices, too.

“We’ve started with fundamentals and we’ve stayed with it, fundamentals over scheme,” Stevenson said. “But they’re like pieces of Lego. You clip them together and all of a sudden you have an offensive play or a defensive scheme.”

Justis MacKay-Topley, Bulldogs running back, said preparations have been good and said the Bulldogs are improving through workouts and practices.

“When you look at the roster it might not look impressive just to look at the height and the size and everything, but one thing you can’t measure is hard work. We have a lot of hard workers,” he said.

Team bonding has also come naturally to the Bulldogs this summer.

“We’re friends, we hang out and stuff and we’re always talking about football, 24-7,” MacKay-Topley said. “It’s the football culture also at this school that helps us thrive.”

Others around B.C. recognize the John Barsby football program’s strength. The team is highly ranked once again, No. 3 in AA varsity according to the Vancouver Province.

Stevenson said “it’s nice that people think highly enough of you to rank you that way,” but pointed out that the 2016 John Barsby Bulldogs haven’t taken the field yet, nor have any other teams.

“It’s a long football season and on the last snap of the last game of the year, you want to be in that game and hopefully with a grin on your face,” the coach said. “That’s our goal and there’s a path to get there and a lot of mystery to it … it’s what keeps football fresh and fun.”

Barsby’s path won’t be an easy one this pre-season. The team is challenging itself with a matchup this Friday (Sept. 9) in Victoria against the defending AAA varsity champions, the Mt. Doug Rams.

“We won’t consider ourselves their little brother,” Stevenson said. “We’re not going there to be competitive, we’re going there to beat them and the game will take care of itself.”

MacKay-Topley said the Bulldogs know they’re in for a tough test, but aren’t intimidated.

“I think we can match up physically with them and then it just depends on play calling and everything, if we can put more points on the board than they can and I think we can.”

GAME ON … The ’Dawgs and Rams kick off Friday at 4:30 p.m. at Mt. Doug Secondary School. Barsby then plays its only home pre-season game on Sept. 17 against the Vernon Panthers at 11 a.m. at Merle Logan Field.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com