Edmonton Wildcats Coach Darcy Park Interview

“The Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL)provides the opportunity for young men aged 17 to 22 to participate in highly competitive post-high school football that is unique in Canada. The goal of the league is to foster community involvement and yield a positive environment by teaching discipline, perseverance and cooperation. The benefits of the league are strong camaraderie, national competition and life-long friends.”

The quote is taken directly from the CJFL “our league” page on their website. In speaking with Darcy Park, the Edmonton Wildcats Coach of 23 years, those words resonated throughout our conversation as he spoke about his players and the football life during a pandemic.

In late June, I had chatted with Wildcats General Manager Garnet Brown about the hopes for an upcoming CJFL season. In the back-and-forth emails with Coach Park setting our phone call, a setback was revealed on July 14th…

“Len, You are definitely on my to do list…going through a frustrating run, we were supposed to begin some small group workouts this week, but were shut down until the first week in August.”

When we connected on the phone, my first question for Coach was to comment on whether or not he felt there was going to be a season:

“Two weeks ago I would have strongly suggested a 70% chance. Today, I say about 40%.

The plan would be two divisions, Alberta and Saskatchewan/Manitoba. Divisional teams would play each other twice. It sounds nice but unlike the bigger leagues that are currently returning to play with the bankroll to support daily COVID-19 testing, we as a league simply cannot. While our athletes who are students have their “social distancing” rules in place, what about our athletes who work jobs that sometimes makes “social distancing” tough to accomplish. We must keep our players and their participation in the community as safe as possible. In doing so, the Club would have to add a third bus when travelling to a road game to keep the players and staff appropriately spaced. That’s an added cost to an already tight budget.

From that point on Coach and I did our best to have a “normal off-season” chat about his football team. Typically a conversation with a coach starts with the team’s recent history. The CJFL website only shows standings as far back as 2014. That was the last time the team reached the 3-win plateau (8-game regular season) having recorded only 2-wins in each of the past two seasons. 

“At this level of sport, things go in cycles. In 2009, we were the PFC and Intergold Champions. In 2013 we went 5-3 but lost 24 players to Chris Morris’ University of Alberta Golden Bears. It hurt our program but we are here to help players get to the next level. As a coach, being a part of someone’s journey is an honour.

We fielded teams where we asked too many 18-year-old players transitioning from the speed of high school football to the pace of the CJFL game to play against 21 and 22-year-old players.

The Saskatoon Hilltops finished last season undefeated. In our league the road roster for a Club is 45. I might be underestimating but they had 18 22-year-olds. We had 4. When we played the Hilltops in the playoffs, we went into the half down only one score.”

Let’s quickly breakdown the offence with one very important footnote. Any players not mentioned are at the fault of the writer and the sake of brevity. Coach Parks would have gladly given me a line or two on all of his 90ish players in camp.

Quarterbacks:

  • Devin Desormeau, 4th year, started our playoff game going 21-30. Devin’s strength is his reading ability and finding his receivers in the windows.
  • Dante Tabacu appeared in 7 games last season for us as a rookie. Dante’s greatest attribute is his confidence in himself to make plays whether it be with his legs or his really strong but young arm.
  • Derek Kucharski missed time last season after planting to throw the ball and believing he broke his foot. It took two consultations with doctors to realize he had a piece of grown over metal in his foot. Derek is your prototypical pocket passer who relies on his ability to read the defences. His trust in his arm sometimes makes him hold the ball too long instead of just putting the ball out there for his receiver to go and get it.
  • On CJFL Signing Day (June 1st) we announced the signing of Mitchell Simmons. I look forward to seeing his strong arm in play when we are allowed to see what he can do.

Running Backs:

  • Dustin Pawliuk is  a scat back meaning he has really quick feet and tries to make tacklers miss. Good catching the ball out of the backfield.
  • Ramone English is a national level sprinter, who typically misses the beginning of the season due to track commitments. As you would expect, he hits a seam, he is gone.
  • Nathan Zacharias and Nash Etson are two young kids. Nathan got banged up with his transition from high school to football. Nash blew out his knee early.
  • 2019 Haliburton Award winner Declan Mullin joins to the team to compete for running back snaps and kick returning opportunities.

Receivers:

  • Lucas Howe and Jacob Mihailides are both entering their 5th years. We will need to do a better job getting the ball to both of them.
  • Galal Elbarkouky joins the Club with the tools to be a top end talent. As with every other talent on the team, it will be our job to teach the youngsters how to use the tools.
  • Garrett Kryzanowski comes in from Lloydminster for his 5th season of Junior Football.
  • Tanner Holt and Layton Barisenkoff are both 3rd year players. Like other receivers not mentioned, the potential is still being untapped.

Offensive line

Last year the group took a big step up and started winning the battle of the trenches on a more consistent basis.

  • Center Mike Rea and tackle Anthony Rahe are seniors. 4th year Richard McQuire is our other tackle.
  • 3rd year guard Kyle Theiss is super intelligent and technically sound. You need Kyle’s on your team.
  • Sophomore Colin Wagner was selected as a top 100 under-19 player. Was tabbed to tryout for Team Canada for the Under-20 Junior World Football Championship.
  • Tayler Lanigan is 6’7 monster that can play tackle or guard.

In the spirit of healthy competition, Tayler stands to push hard to earn a starting job. We always want to build up confidence with our players. Getting them to understand that their role may change week-to-week but hard work is key.

New Offensive Coordinator

With a new OC in Kavis Reed, his attention to detail is something all us coaches could aspire to. Despite his CFL resume he has been content being “just the OC”.

Through “Zoom meetings” with his players, the explanation of the how and the why of football is first and foremost. He explains to the receivers why they are running the routes they are running. The theory of the game is explained by him. The playbook will be added to but for now focus is on the details.

The irony of this pandemic is that the time we normally do not have to talk about the why’s and what’s of what is happening in a football game, we now have and have tried to make the most of it. Lots of meeting time, full offensive meetings, breaking into specific groups, zoom meetings for evaluations. Moving forward, Google meetings and Zoom meetings are now an adopted tool. Players will come to practices with a much more precise idea and concept of what will be taught and practiced.

Thank you Coach Park!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: