OSHAWA — Victoria Day weekend marks the start of Ontario Varsity Football League (OVFL) action. This is the first season only one team from Durham, the Oshawa Hawkeyes, will compete.
All four youth teams — Peewee, Bantam, Junior Varsity, and Senior Varsity — will be in action on Saturday, May 20 at Terry Kelly Field against Ottawa’s Myers Riders.
The OVFL gives young Ontario football players an opportunity to hone their skills with a chance of graduating to post-secondary teams and even the CFL and NFL.
The off-season saw a change in the lineup of the OVFL, with the departure of the Clarington Knights and Durham Dolphins to rival league Ontario Provincial Football League (OPFL).
However, Senior Varsity General Manager Colleen Buchanan said the change in the lineup has also opened opportunities for the 58-year-old Oshawa team to widen its net when recruiting players.
There are no longer restrictions for players who live outside Oshawa’s boundaries to register with the team. So, players from Ajax, Clarington, and Pickering are welcome to try out.
James Duignan, head coach for the Senior Varsity team, played for the Hawkeyes for 11 years and said he is excited about the new season.
“It’s going to be different, but I think we’re going in a positive direction. We’ve got a good club here,” said Duignan. “Although the boundaries opened, all our kids stayed, knowing that we have a good program here.”
Buchanan said the Hawkeyes have made some positive changes over the last 12 months, which are all financed through the registration fee, including:
• Pre-season indoor tryouts in the fall
• A strength and conditioning program in the winter months in partnership with Crossfit Dioxide, Whitby
• An NFL-style combine at the spring open house
• Indoor training during the month of April
• New uniform design for the rep team, to be unveiled at the opening game
• Themed game days, including a Food Drive for ‘Tackle Hunger’ on June 3.
Buchanan said that although registration numbers were down generally province-wide, the club currently has 200 players registered across the house and rep teams.
Buchanan said recent media and movies highlighting the issue of concussions in sport may be why parents are reluctant to register their child in a contact sport such as football.
But, recent directives by Football Canada, due to take effect next year, aim to limit the number of games a player can play and eliminate tackle football for the youngest players.
Football Canada also implemented Safe Contact Weeks this year, where clubs are mandated to organize three hours of helmet-only safe contact training.
“It’s all to protect the players,” said Buchanan. “It was to teach (the players) proper contact without actually doing the hard-hitting plays.”
Players who are interested in registering have until June 3 for a rep team place, but the GM said they “would never turn away a house league player.”
Don Aucoin is secretary for the club executive and also coaches the Bantam team. Aucoin stressed how the off-season conditioning training and having the player as fit as possible and conditioned using the proper techniques has eliminated a lot of the early-season injuries.
“Early in the season, the weather’s cold. Kids have been sitting on the couch playing video games,” said Aucoin. “Very few of them are doing another sport or activity and then they run into this. We’re constantly up on what’s current in terms of making these skills and these adjustments on the field for these players.”
Aucoin said the club hopes to expand their house league system to the bantam level so students who enter the sport at high school will have already had a chance to play the game at a recreational level.
The Hawkeyes were the brainchild of Ted Morris, the then-chief Canadian scout for the Toronto Argonauts. He walked into the office of G.M. Canada President E.H. Walker and suggested a junior football club for Oshawa. The new team kicked off the 1959 season as the Oshawa Imps after the new GM Impala, but the name was changed to The Hawkeyes in 1961 and the double blue Argonaut colours remained.
Several Hawkeyes alumni progressed to play professionally in the CFL and NFL, including Stefan Charles (Jacksonville Jaguars), Carl Fitzgerald (Saskatchewan Roughriders), Akeem Foster (Edmonton Eskimos), Mike Kashak (Calgary Stampeders), and Jason Pottinger (Toronto Argonauts).
For more information, go to www.hawkeyes.ca