A familiar family is moving back to a popular neighbourhood in Red Deer.
The Central Alberta Buccaneers are bringing their game to Setters Place at Great Chief Park for 2018 and with the move comes a new closeness within the senior football squad.
“I think more than anything we’re a family,” said seven-year veteran Mark Fay. “We kind of went through ebbs and flows, you know, it feels like we’re really serious, we want to win but there’s that disconnect of family.”
Head Coach Fred Knip returns for a second year and he agrees with Fay on the family assessment aspect of the Bucs.
“We have a family culture here,” he said. “Sure, one kid is faster than the other and another kid has a better throwing arm than the other but if they feel accepted, if they feel wanted and they feel a part of the team, they’ve got each others back.”
The Bucs were league finalists two years ago and got bounced from the playoffs in 2017 by the eventual national champion Calgary Gators. Fay says last year’s version had that togetherness but were not quite where they needed to be competitively.
He says the feeling is the competition level has jumped up to match the tight-knit feeling all teams strive for but it requires some hard work.
“We just need to out prepare teams. You have two practices a week and some guys might not make it to both practices, maybe one practice,” he said about the reality of senior sports. “Family comes up and you might not make zero practices but the more consistent we can be with our numbers at practice the better we are.”
Numbers won’t be a problem for the Bucs as they have about 60 players committed to this season which puts them in very good shape.
On the offensive side of the football the Bucs will have a solid one-two punch at quarterback with former CIS all star Brandon Leyh returning to pilot the offence along with last years starter Judah Knip.
The feeling going into the regular season is the Bucs will put up a lot of passes with those two behind centre.
“Brandon will stay in the pocket and he’s not afraid. He’ll stay there and he’ll side-step, he’ll dodge, he’ll jiggle and juggle and then he’ll throw the ball 60 yards,” said Knip. “Judah, he sees a threat coming and he’s fast enough with his longs legs and he gets to the outside, he’s gone.”
Over the last few years the Bucs defence has chiseled out a reputation as a very fast, aggressive unit and this year will be no different under the watchful eye of evil genius Devon Hand.
“That’s a great description for him(Hand),” said Fay. “We have a smaller defence, so we have to rely on our speed a little bit and Devon puts together a great game plan for us every week. It’s pretty easy to play a system like that when guys are flying around, having fun.”
Knip says last year the Bucs were not supposed to be one of the top teams after losing some talented players but it didn’t turn out that way.
“We showed the league that it wasn’t so much x’s and o’s as much as it was culture and family,” he said.
The 2018 AFL will have a different look as the Calgary Gators folded operations so some division realignment took place.
The Bucs will play in the same division as Fort McMurray and St. Albert, playing them each twice. The other division will have Airdrie, Lloydminster, Grande Prairie and the Calgary Wolfpack with the Bucs playing those teams once each.
The season starts June 2nd with the Bucs on the bye and they will pen at home June 9th against Fort McMurray.