Huddling up: Capital Area Gladiatorsí coach and receiver Jeff Taylor, left, goes over some detail work with fellow coach and defensive end Jamie Edwards, right, under the watchful gaze of prospective players, from left: Andrew Hubbard, Erik Watson, Andrew Gillingham, and Jay Thomas during a team practice Wednesday night. The season-opening jamboree for the Maritime Senior Football League is in Moncton.
 
Upward mobility
Gladiators | Maritime sr. grid squad has high expectations along with moving up the hill to play out of Chapman Field

By Bill Hunt

Like the Jeffersons in the 1970's vintage television show, the Capital Area Gladiators are Movin' On Up.

The Gladiators, the local entry in the Maritime Football League, kick off their ninth season Saturday with their participation in the league's jamboree at Rocky Stone Field in Moncton as a prelude to a seven-game regular season schedule which begins the following Friday night in Moncton against the Riverview Mustangs.

The first of three home games comes up the following Friday night, June 5 at their new home address, UNB's Chapman Field when they host the Moncton Marshals.

"It's a beautiful venue," said defensive coach/lineman Jamie Edwards. "We're hoping to draw more of a local crowd where we're right in town," he said. "If we could turn it into a place to go, that would be nice."

He believes the Gladiators will be a team to watch in the eight-team circuit, which includes the Saint John Wanderers, Saint John Longhorns and Moncton Marshals in the Western Conference and the Riverview Mustangs, Dartmouth Knights, Halifax Shockers and PEI Privateers in the East.

The Gladiators have had as many as 35 players out to workouts, which have been going since April. Edwards is one of six defensive linemen with Canadian Interuniversity Sport experience, giving the Gladiators solid depth. He played two years in the CEGEP system in Quebec before moving on to Bishops' University and playing for the Gaiters for five more.

Trevor O'Leary and John Hayward of St. Francis University, Tyler Doak of Mount Allison and Ben Thompson of McGill University Redmen of Montreal are the others. Thompson is a stalwart for the Redmen, so Edwards is wary of the potential for injury.

"He's one I'm kind of on the bubble with," said Edwards. "He could rotate in every once in a while just to keep his skills and his football edge. That's the biggest thing about the summer ball...you don't go into camp with any rust on."

That's proven beneficial to Thompson, who was McGill's rookie of the year in 2007 and Elliot Hicks, who was the Mount Allison Mounties' rookie of the year last season. And for high school grads A.J. Durling, a receiver who will be heading to Acadia, and Cody Stewart, graduating from Leo Hayes and heading to Saint Mary's University in Halifax in the fall. Jay Thomas is a truck in the backfield as a running back.

They'll add to a deep and experienced roster.

"We probably have 15 or 20 players with CIS experience or in CIS ball," said Edwards, mentioning the quarterbacking tandem of Andrew Hickey of the Waterloo Warriors and former Mount A signal caller Allison Brooks. He came on originally as a coach but has picked up gear recently. Edwards fully expects him to take some snaps this season. Former Leo Hayes quarterback Brendan Cornford is also in the mix.

Edwards believes the Gladiators - Mariner Bowl champions a year ago as winners of the secondary tier of playoff competition - are ready to move on up to the upper echelon as well.

"I think with our depth, we could be pushing for the top spot," he said. "The Mustangs usually have current or former CIS players and that's what puts them over the top every year."

Edwards likens the calibre of the summer league to the Quebec CEGEP (post high school) and the CIS level.

The Gladiators' depth should serve them in good stead, The game has evolved from 10 man to 12 man football. That, and the move to the more central location of Chapman Field has helped the Gladiators pump some new blood into the program.

"I think it helped us with our recruiting...it's closer to 'real' football, as people would say," said Edwards. "But if a team like P.E.I. comes to a game with only 25 guys, we'll go back to 10 man rules."

Three prospects - Hicks of Mount Allison, defensive lineman Jake Thomas of Acadia and Ryan Downe of Mount A - are at a Football Canada training camp in Montreal next week for a Canadian team that will play an international junior world championship schedule June 27 to July 5 in a couple of weeks and may not be available if they make the national program.

At the jamboree Saturday, the Gladiators will get 15 offensive plays against each of the Marshals, the Saint John Longhorns and the Saint John Wanderers in the morning and the defence will face the same teams in the afternoon.

Two of the Gladiators' games will be under the Friday night lights. They'll host the Saint John Longhorns June 19 and face Dartmouth Knights at home Saturday, July 18, a 6 p.m. kickoff at Chapman.

Fredericton High School Black Kats coach Mike Casey is the head coach. Jeff Taylor, who is also on the FHS staff, is the offensive co-ordinator, with Brooks working with Hickey as a quarterback coach. Edwards works with the defence along with fellow players O'Leary, who works with the defensive line, John Hayward working with linebackers and Bobby McIntyre working with the backs.

"That's been working out really well," said Edwards.