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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

May 12, 2014, Victoria, BC (ISN) – While It is spring and most of the sports world has turned its eyes to the Stanley Cup playoffs, NBA playoffs, Major League Baseball season and lacrosse, the Mount Doug Rams are quietly preparing for this fall’s BC Provincial High School Football season and an unprecedented fourth straight AAA Varsity Provincial Championship.

Defensive end Byron MacKinnon is put through the paces at a blocking drill Monday at Mt. Doug High School (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

The Rams were hard at it on Monday afternoon at their first full equipment practice of their spring development camp. Varsity Head Coach Mark Townsend and Junior Varsity Head Coach Karn Dodd were making their rounds and keeping an eye on their charges, as assistant coaches put all the players through a variety of drills.

The Rams are looking to capture their fourth straight Provincial title at the Varsity level, but they will have some big shoes to fill in order for that to happen in the fall, as the turnover of gradualting players has been significant, both in terms of numbers, as well as caliber.

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A young offensive lineman candidate goes up against perhaps the toughest opponent he will face all season – the blocking sled – during a drill Monday at the Mt. Doug Rams spring practice (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

Gone from the 2013 Varsity squad is starting quarterback Ashton MacKinnon, who has moved on to the University of Manitoba. All five players on the offensive line that opened holes for MacKinnon and for star running back Marcus Davis are also gone. So too is the speedy Davis, who will be playing with his brother Terrell at UBC in September.

“There is no doubt we have lost some very talented and skilled players from last year’s squad,” said Varsity Head Coach Mark Townsend. “Especially the likes of MacKinnon at QB and Marcus [Davis] at running back, plus our entire offensive line. While we may lack some that size that those quys brought, I know this season we will be very tough team and these guys are really anxious to go out there and make their own mark on this football team.”

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Assistant Coach Dave Wong runs through a play with the offence prior to a drill at spring practice Monday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

“I’ve told all the players that all positions are open,” added Townsend. “We have a talented group of returning Grade 11’s plus a great bunch of Grade 10’s moving up to the varsity level and I know all of them are going to use this spring camp as a chance to compete and earn themselves a starting role on our team.”

“I like our chances this year,” said Townsend. “We will be very athletic. We will be tough. I think with Terry Fox returning a number of key players, they will be a concensus favourite to win it all, so in many respects we are flying under the radar this season. It has been a few years since that has happened and it’s kind of nice. We are going to go out there and be very aggressive both on offence and defence and be prepared to surprise some people.”

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The Ram’s offence and quarterback Joey Clark (far left) run through a play during spring practice Monday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

Townsend’s players, almost to a tee, echo the “underdog” status that the team has this season. “We are definitely the underdogs this season,” said Senior receiver Ross Faulkner, healthy again after missing most of 2013 with a knee injury. “Teams won’t be expecting us to be able to do what we did last year and I think we can use that to our advantage this season and surprise a few folks. There is a bit of pressure on us , having won the past three years and maybe being expected to do so again, but I think we will be up to the task.”

Running back Seye Farinu, the most likley candidate at this point to fill the shoes of the departed Davis, was also confident and welcomes the chance to have more responsibilities in the backfield. “I think we are going to surprise many teams this season. This team is so much closer this season, there is so much talent and we are pretty well balanced. I hope I can be a workhorse and have a good season. I trust these guys and know they have my back, so I am not too worried about that.”

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Running back Seye Farinu will most likely see the bulk of the ball carrying duties for the Rams in 2014 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

At the quarterback position, Townsend indicated there is not yet a number one choice for the starting position. Both Gavin Cobb, who took the majority of snaps at QB for the Junior Varsity squad last season, as well as Joey Clark, MacKinnon’s back-up in 2013, are the main candidates. Both were taking snaps at the position on Monday, but given that Cobb was a key receiver and a defensive back for the Varsity squad last season, it appears that perhaps Clark will be tasked with the bulk of the work this year. When asked on what his preference would be, Cobb was very diplomatic in his answer, “I just want to do whatever coach needs me to do to help the team win.”

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Although he is also a candidate for the quarterback position, the Ram’s Gavin Cobb here practices his pass defending at the defensive back position (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams will see leadership from Senior defensive end Byron MacKinnon and
Senior lineman and outside linebacker Morgan Pearse, both of whom are itching to grab a fourth straight championship. “We had a great season two years ago in Junior Varsity and now all those players are here,” noted MacKinnon. “We should be just fine and are ready to make some things happen.”

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Junior Varsity quarterback hopeful Josh Lucas goes through a footwork drill at spring practice on Monday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

Win or lose, a key accomplishment of the Rams program has been to move players on to the next level to play football at the college level, something that coach Townsend is very proud of. “It is very rewarding to see many of our grads move up to the college level. I am proud of their accomplishments both from a football perspective, as well as an academic perspective. That really sets a good example and paves a nice path for this current group of players who see that if you work hard in class and on the field, you will be rewarded.”

The Rams will continue their spring camp over the next month and in mid-June will head over to the mainland for a controlled scrimmage with Lord Tweedsmuir. The 2014 season begins in earnest for both the Varsity and Junior Varsity squads on Friday September 5th, as they take on Spectrum in an exhibition game at Westhills Stadium. The Varsity regulalr season kicks off on September 19th with a road game against Notre Dame, while the JV squad opens at home on October 1st against the Barsby Bulldogs from Nanaimo.