Airdrie's high-school football programs will be in good hands in the years to come – at least, based on the performances of the city's up-and-coming minor football players.
The Airdrie Raiders bantam (U15) and the Airdrie Storm peewee (U13) squads are both enjoying unbeaten runs to start their 2022 fall football seasons. The Raiders are currently 4-0 in the Calgary Bantam Football Association (CBFA) while the Storm are 3-0 in the Calgary Peewee Football Association (CPFA).
“We’re churning out talent, there’s no question there,” said Tyrell Rohl, the Storm's head coach and a long-serving minor football coach in Airdrie. “We’re getting good kids every year and we’re able to work with them because they’re super coachable. It’s definitely making a difference.”
The Raiders' unbeaten start has largely been due to the team's strong defence – Airdrie has shut out the last three teams they've played against, and only conceded 16 points in their season-opener against the Calgary Cowboys. In a testament to how impressive that performance was, Rohl noted the Cowboys have gone on to average more than 60 points per game in their three games since.
Ironically, Rohl said that before the season was underway, defence was actually a point of concern for Raiders head coach Steve Kemp, due to a lack of linemen in the Raiders' roster. But some positional rejigging has paid major dividends.
“He made some adjustments, put some guys in the right spots, and they’re rolling right now,” Rohl said.
“They’re big, they’re fast, and there are a ton of kids on that defence who have been playing the game since they were eight, nine years old. They had a kid (Jaxson Morton) move in from the Calgary area who came from a really good program in south Calgary with the Stamps. He’s been playing linebacker and is an absolute monster.”
On offence, the first-place Raiders have relied on the services of incoming quarterback Ronin Thompson (a star performer for the peewee Storm last fall) and running back Jaiden Barker. Rohl said the two players have taken the responsibility of leading the team's offence in stride.
Coming off a 22-0 win over the Cochrane Lions on Sept. 17, there are three games left in the Raiders' regular season schedule before the CBFA playoffs get underway in mid-to-late October. Rohl noted Airdrie's last two games will be tough match-ups against the Calgary Bulldogs and Calgary Stampeders, who until they played each other this past weekend, were also unbeaten in 2022.
For scores and schedules, visit cbfa.ab.ca
As for the Storm's successful start to 2022, Rohl said the many 11-year-olds who graduated to the peewee age group from Airdrie Minor Football's title-winning atom team last fall have buoyed an already-strong core of returning players, who finished runners-up in the CPFA last season.
“We have a huge o-line and d-line, and that crew from [last year’s undefeated] atom team came in,” he said. “Our starting quarterback is an 11-year-old and our starting tailback is an 11-year-old. We weren’t sure how our season was going to go either coming in, having to play that many rookie peewee players…but these guys came in and have made a huge difference.”
The Storm's last outing was a 38-14 victory over the Calgary Colts on Sept. 17. Prior to that, Airdrie's results included a 34-14 win over the Cowboys and a 40-22 win over the Calgary Wildcats.
Even though they're unbeaten, the Storm are only in third place, as they've conceded more points than the two other unbeaten teams.
“We’re letting points every game, but the kids are learning as we’re going,” Rohl said. “Being 11 years old kids, a lot of them, they’re learning every week and we’re getting a little bit better [every game].”
Next up, Airdrie's defence will be tested when they face the also-unbeaten Calgary Mavericks on Sept. 24. Kick-off will be at 1 p.m. at Shouldice Athletic Park, in Calgary.
“That’s the last upper-end team we play before we finish off the [regular] season in the last few weeks, Rohl said. “They have a big running back who is going to be tough to stop.”