File photo The Earl Marriott Mariners will only have Grade 8 and junior teams this football season.

Earl Marriott Mariners focus on youth as B.C. high-school football season begins

South Surrey school will field Grade 8, junior football teams this season

A year after making the jump to the triple-A level – and just two seasons removed from back-to-back provincials titles at AA – Earl Marriott Secondary’s football program is undergoing a youth movement.

When the South Surrey football program kicks off its season today (Wednesday), it will be the junior team leading the charge, as the Mariners won’t field a senior varsity squad for the first time since midway through the 2011 season, when the team was shutdown mid-schedule after a roster that was small in numbers to begin with was beset by injuries.

Now, the focus will be on development, with Michael Mackay-Dunn – the head of the football program and longtime senior varsity coach – taking the reins of the Grade 8 squad. Scott Martens will coach the junior squad, which this year is officially a joint effort between EMS and Elgin Park Secondary, as the team will feature at least one Elgin student who wanted to play, Mackay-Dunn said.

Earl Marriott is the only team on the Semiahmoo Peninsula with a football program, with Cloverdale’s Lord Tweedsmuir being the other nearby school. Teams made up on multiple schools are ineligible for playoffs, Mackay-Dunn noted, but the team would still play some type of season-ending game, even if it’s just an exhibition tilt.

“When we had registration last spring, we had a pretty low response (for the senior team),” he told Peace Arch News Monday.

“That’s when we decided to go with the Grade 8s and juniors (only). We could have had a senior team with younger players, but we didn’t think it would have been fair to throw a bunch of Grade 9s and 10s out on the field against seniors.

“That doesn’t do anything for their development as football players, and we were smart enough to realize it.”

Now, the focus will be on growing the game at the school, and getting experience for the younger players as they move through the ranks – Mackay-Dunn said he expected to have a senior team next fall.

While it’s disappointing not to have a senior varsity team after just one season at triple-A, Mackay-Dunn said in retrospect, they should have made the jump after the team’s first AA provincial title, rather than their second.

“We had such a good, talented group of senior players then,” he said. “That was probably the right year to go.”

Last year at triple-A, the senior Mariners struggled to an 0-4 win-loss record in their division, thanks in large part to an injury to quarterback Owen Dickie. Dickie’s absence under centre thrust then-Grade 9 backup Sam LaRoue into the starting job.

This year’s junior Mariners will hit the field this afternoon for a game against West Vancouver’s Argyle Pipers. Opening kickoff is 3:45 p.m. at EMS. Next week, the Grade 8s will open their season by hosting a Grade 8 football jamboree, which will also include Lord Tweedsmuir, Holy Cross and Seaquam.