The Windsor Fratmen hosted the OFC Championship game for a second year...
Coach, Beefs Back in Business
Article Credit to: Ryan Pyette from The London Free Press
The older guard is disappearing.
Last season, the Ontario Football Conference allowed 24-year-olds to roam its gridiron.
This time, it’s capped at 23.
A year from now, it’s back to 22 like it was before 2014, which unshackles the hungry-for-players OFC from its Canadian Junior Football League playoff purgatory.
“I personally like it (at 22 years old) because then you can compete for a national championship,” said London coach John Vouvalidis, the long-time Central high school skipper back with the Beefeaters after a one-year hiatus. “(Western coach and Beefs director Greg Marshall) asked me to consider (returning) and I’d love to see this team do well.
“I really care about the Beefeaters. They’ve been around a long time and I want to help them get where they hope to be.”
That’s right into the provincial title conversation, preferably in time to coincide with the return to full-fledged CJFL postseason competition in 2017.
The Beefs went 4-4 and finished fourth before losing to three-time defending champ Windsor in the playoff semis last fall. London last won the OFC crown and played beyond the conference when Vouvalidis was coach of the year in 2012.
“Our goal right now is to get into the playoffs, then see from there,” he said. “It will be a tough go and I’m excited. I think all six teams are really good.”
There are no gimme games. The Grand River Predators, 0-8 last year, have called it quits. The Burlington Braves packed up and moved to St. Catharines, rebranded as the Niagara Regional Raiders.
Four of the six remaining clubs make the playoffs.
“It was an odd schedule where there were seven teams and now with six, it balances things out,” Vouvalidis said. “You always want more teams in the league, but I think it will be very competitive this way.”
The Beefs should have some built-in swagger. They are welcoming back some familiar faces.
Star defensive lineman Garrett Heming has returned for a final junior season, along with fifth-year defensive back Isaiah Nganga.
“They were on the 2012 championship team,” Vouvalidis said. “Garrett looks really good. Isaiah is an outstanding player. (Middle linebacker) Waseem Ghozayel was an all-star last year, top five in defensive points, and he’s a great presence.”
Spencer Bollman and Haylen Ferguson are the quarterbacks in camp. Dwaine Stewart and Joel Clubine should carry the rock on a regular basis.
More recruits will arrive next week once Western’s training camp heats up.
“We’re always looking for more (talent),” Vouvalidis said. “We have the Western affiliation so the hope is we’ll get some of their players there to help develop. You get better by playing. We might get one or two (from Grand River), but we haven’t officially signed anyone.
“We want to get up to that 50-60 players.”
Jordan Haylor will serve as London’s offensive co-ordinator and Gary Haldenby, a coach at Western the last decade, will run the defence.
“We have a great coaching staff,” Vouvalidis said, “and I don’t think we’ll be measured by our first game. (The Sooners) lost in the Ontario final last year. They will be very good. We will build slowly. We have a lot of younger players, which is nice to see, and the kids are working hard.”