Brebeuf principal Derek Chen said it was an uphill battle to bring back the football team after almost 40 years. Photo courtesy of Brebeuf College School

Brebeuf College celebrates first football season in 37 years

By  Michael Romen, Youth Speak News
  • December 20, 2018

Brebeuf College School’s football teams only won one game this year, but it will still go down as a championship season.

That’s because its greatest triumph came even before the first kickoff, when the Brebeuf Bulls were re-born after a 37-year absence from the Toronto high school football scene.

Principal Derek Chen admits it was a struggle to get the teams back on the field, but the students had clearly voiced their opinion at a town hall meeting last year.

“The response was overwhelming. They wanted a football team,” said Chen. “But it was an uphill battle for a variety of reasons.”

Those reasons included costs and safety concerns, but they were eventually addressed and the team took shape. 

Coach John Engel said the school caught football fever when the junior team won against Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in November, the school’s first football win since 1981.

“The Friday Night Lights game at Lawrence Park was great not only because it was a win but because  a lot of parents were able to attend,” said Engel. “The looks on their faces and the things they had to say about their sons was incredible. The excitement not only about their win but in the feel around the program and the pride they had in their sons was palpable.”

Engel is a former football coach at University of Toronto, Guelph University and York University. He became one of the prime movers in the team’s resurrection when he joined the school staff in 2016. 

“Coaching the team has been one of the most rewarding experiences in the 16-year coaching career,” said Engel in the school’s newsletter. “The kids basically started learning the game from scratch and the amount that they improved every week was astounding.”

The junior team finished the season with a win and a tie in five games, while the seniors were winless in five games. But Engel said the standings don’t reflect the commitment everyone made.

He said the 60 students on the junior and senior teams had to overcome many hurdles to make their first season in the TDSSAA possible. The students spent the previous school year fund-raising for equipment, uniforms and transportation, but they only raised half of the cost required. 

A generous Brebeuf alumnus donated the rest of the funds, pushing the dream closer to reality. 

Safety was a big concern in a sport notorious for injuries. Changes in the rules and improvements in equipment mitigate some of the risk, but Engel noted that any enterprise worth undertaking carries risk. 

“That’s not to say that the school took any chances when it comes to the wellbeing of the students,” said Engel. “They worked very hard and it shows. They haven’t complained, made excuses or quit. They continue to impress me with their integrity and effort.”

Bringing football back to Brebeuf was literally an uphill battle for Grade 10 student Luka Stoikos, who played linebacker and running back. 

He said three-hour practices every day was not easy, but one of the team’s first bonding experiences was an uphill run. 

One of the most memorable moments for Coach Engel was the night practice before Thanksgiving. This was a team that went from a group of guys who could not do a three-point stance to a full-fledged football team that brought home its first win. 

Everyone was there that practice, even though it was the last night before a long weekend. Engel said he did not let them off easy, putting them through blocking and tackling drills. 

“Those guys would have played until dark if I had let them,” he said. “Their faces were glowing, they were enjoying the game of football and they were getting to have that feeling inside of them that hooks anyone that loves football to the game. It’s something that I have been feeling all of my life and I was able to share in it with this new group of players. It was very special.”

The team is already gearing up for the next season. Engel said they have plans adding a two-week camp in the spring, as well as some exhibition games before the start of next year’s season. 

(Romen, 24, is a third-year English and Classics student at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.) 

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