The Fredericton Touch Football league will feature nine teams this season, more than double the size of a year ago. Players, from left, Blake Murphy, Jake Thomas, Brendan Cornford, Derek Broad, Paul Sibley, Brent True and Kent Murphy are anxious to hit the Chapman Field turf. Teams play an eight game regular season schedule, with a playoff jamboree to determine the league champion on the weekend of august 7. Some 140 players, including many CIS players, will be part of the expanded league this season.

Touch football loop spreads wings
Growing grid game | League's nine teams are dotted with many familiar names

By Robert Touchie

The Fredericton Touch Football League is primed to take flight for its 2010 season.

The fledgling circuit, which included four teams and approximately 35 players last season, has grown to nine teams and 140 players, ranging in age from 15, "to mid-forties," said league president Brent True.

The league opens the 2010 season with pre-season 'jamboree' action at Chapman Field this Saturday, starting at 5 p.m.. Regular season play begins Tuesday and continues with games throughout the summer on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights through to the weekend of August 7. A playoff jamboree format will be held to determine the 2010 league champion.

"We set out with an agenda as a league to grow through youth and youth has certainly been served," said True. "We have players on teams from all three varsity high school football programs in the city, a JV program and numerous university aged athletes. Many of them (are) players at the CIS level.

"We couldn't be happier with the new shape of the league," he said.

The roster of players on the various teams reads like a veritable who's who of football in the city from the last two decades, noted True.

Leading the way are the Grad House Graduates, led by former Mount Allison Mounties starter Allison Brooks, who is supported by UNB Red Bomber deep threat Andrew Hubbard. Brooks' former battery mate with the Mounties, Andrew Fisher returns from Japan to bolster the Grad's roster.

True notes that Brooks' team are "perennial league pennant contenders and former league champions from three seasons ago." But he expects them to be challenged this season.

"This is a very good league, a balanced league and a league that will be very close and very competitive," said True, who will take over the Leo Hayes Lions varsity football program this fall.

True points to the senior men's Gladiator team as a prime candidate to challenge for the vacant league title, after the league lost it's two time reigning champions, the Labatt Spartans. The Spartans, with a roster which included former St. Francis Xavier X-Men star Dave Skillen, who will attend a CFL tryout camp with the Montreal Alouettes later this summer, Andrew Hickey, and reigning league Most Valuable Player and Alouette draft pick Justin Conn.

"Losing those players is a serious blow to the league and we are going to miss them considerably, but it says a lot about the depth of talent in the city that we are able to not just replace those guys, but actually grow in size," said True. "I know Jeff and Jamie (Taylor and Edwards, Gladiator player coaches) have talked of joining our league for a while, so it is really great to have them on board, and I fully expect them to be one of the league leaders."

But True says there are other contenders too.

"If you look through this league you see CIS all-stars, CFL prospects and great local high school players this year," said True. "We've got a lot of great football players coming back to the touch game after being away for a few years,"

Former Fredericton High School and Mount Allison Mountie Phil Booker, ex-FHS quarterback Brendan McGinn and former UNB hockey player Chris Hodgson, bidding for a spot on the St. FX football team next season, are all suiting up this season.

Among the league's returning veterans, Jake Thomas, whom True calls "the face of football in Fredericton right now," and Red Bombers quarterback Brendan Cornford make the Budweiser Raiders crew contenders as well.

True has a darkhorse in handicapping the field, however.

"Ronnie Squires' team from Oromocto, the Caitlin MacTavish Realty Mounties, is the dark horse this in my opinion," said True. "They are young but they are loaded," he said, mentioning Bishops' University bound brothers Jordan and Nathan Heather, a potent quarterback and receiver tandem, Hodgson, Booker, Mount Allison-bound Josh Blanchard, and Grade 11 high school student Mitch McCoy, "who might very well be the best of the bunch," he said.

Fredericton High School assistant coach and former Gaiter all-star O.J.Burnett leads the All Star Sports Academy Roughriders, a team comprised of current and former Black Kats, including Garrett Gee, Jeff Madsen, John Morse of Acadia and A.J.Durling.

"I've heard from both coaches that Ronnie and O.J's teams had a pre-season exhibition tilt that was very competitive, almost heated, and I expect that rivalry to stoke the competition for the entire league," said True.

He said with the league playing its entire schedule at Chapman Field, speed will be a major factor this year.

"It should be interesting to see how the older players in the league manage now with all these young legs out here now," said True.

"This is a first for touch football in the city and I think that the turf will change the complexion of the league this year.

"These young players, at age 15-22, can really motor and it will be a challenge for a lot of us older players to keep up."

True speaks to the speed he has seen in his own club, the Booker Realty X-Men, a group of players aged 16-18 from the north side.

"(Quarterback) Derek Broad has been airing it out and we have the bodies to go out and get it when he does," said True, mentioning Paul Sibley, Ryan Cain and Josh Campbell as players to watch. "The new prototypical player in this league is young, fast, hungry and skilled."

Well, most of them.

"We've got two other 'older' teams, but that is relative," said True, noting that the average age of the Garrison District and the Scott Janes State Farm Insurance teams are "only about 29 or 30,"

"Matt Rogers has the Janes team and they are mostly UNB graduate students and former hockey players, while the Garrison team is led by John Hickey, who led a UNB team to a national flag tournament less than ten years ago."

Teams play an eight game regular season schedule. Games consist of four 20-minute quarters, running straight time. Many of the players in the league will be taking part in the Evan Underhill Memorial Tournament, a 16-team fund raising event held in memory of a popular former Leo Hayes High School student who passed away in December 2007. That event is slated for June 5 at the Leo Hayes back field.