The Humboldt Collegiate Mohawks football team has returned to the gridiron looking to build upon a provincial semi-final appearance last season.
The Mohawks officially kicked off their 2018 football season on Aug. 23 for the first day of camp.
With the Mohawks set to play an exhibition game, the club opened camp earlier this season, and while coach Cory Popoff admitted it was nice to be back, he also said he was returning to the field with mixed emotions.
“I mentioned to the boys that for sure we’re missing Tyler and Brody. It is tough, this is day two for our fall camp and today more than ever we miss those two guys and the roles that they played on this team.”
After the club made an extended run to the provincial semi-final a year ago, the players came back to camp ready to go, said Popoff.
“The boys are looking good. They’re playing well, you can tell a lot of them worked out over the summer and they have their mind in the game so we’re looking forward to the season, that’s for sure.”
This year’s camp brings a much different feel for the Mohawks, who, heading into last season, were looking to learn the basics of football with many key contributors graduating, including nearly the entire offense.
This year, Popoff says the club is already way ahead of where they were at the same point in 2017, saying instead of learning the skills, they are building upon them.
“We have a lot of senior players this year. A lot of the skills and just football sense will be passed down in many ways to our younger folk and we certainly plan on being very competitive this year,” he said.
“Every practice, it’s the person that works harder than the next that will be successful and that’s what we’re going to do this year.”
The practice tone was set early by the Mohawks this year, and not by the coaches but the players themselves, who with practice wearing down asked the coaches to do another practice rep before bringing practice to a close.
“Our boys this year really want to win and be very competitive and that’s exhibited here today and as coaches we couldn’t be more thrilled by their effort and their commitment to this team and to themselves and to each other,” said Popoff.
Of course, there will be a lot of work for the Mohawks between now and November if they hope to hoist the provincial trophy, and Popoff says one of the next steps for the players, will be to learn how to manage adversity both on and off the field.
With adversity tough to teach, Popoff says they will try to simulate some situations to try and draw that out of the players.
“We have high expectations here at practice and we will challenge the kids on their ability and more so on their effort. So there will be a bit of a drill sergeant approach in that regard because we have high expectations for our players and they know that,” he said.
“(The players) tend to meet those expectations. So practices will be tough, they’ll be full of learning and we expect them to understand the game. Toughness is one thing that we value here on our football team and I don’t know if you can really coach toughness but you can certainly put them in scenarios where you can draw that out of them.”
While the club will be using practice to improve, there is only so much learning a team can do in a practice atmosphere, which is why Popoff and the Mohawks are set to play against Rosetown in a controlled scrimmage.
The contest, which will feature no special teams, is on Aug. 29 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field in Saskatoon at 7:00 p.m.
With the contest being a controlled scrimmage, Popoff says he is looking for his players to take the chance to play and learn the positions they are asked to play.
“It’s really kind of a low pressure situation where we can try a bunch of scenarios and see what works the best for us before we get ready for our first football game this season,” he said.
“We’re just looking forward to playing everybody in spots and seeing where they excel and taking some film and looking at it and making sure that our depth is right where we want it to be.”
After their Aug. 29 contest, the Mohawks will have eight days of practice before kicking off their season Sept. 7 in Tisdale against the Tornadoes.