AFL blueprint for success: a passion for football

By Dave Ritchie
Published in the Daily Gleaner on Wednesday August 19, 2009
Appeared on Page B2

They've ordered the uniforms and the gear. And the University of New Brunswick has put out an official press release.

So, are you ready for some football? The Red Bombers are back.

OK, not quite the way the oldies remember.

James Cress, co-ordinator of the UNB Fredericton sport club programs and listed as the liaison person to the Red Bombers operation, says: "Although the football team will not compete at the varsity level, UNB's campus recreation departments are pleased to offer students an opportunity to play football while attending UNB.''

Natasha Kelly, campus recreation and special events co-ordinator for UNB in Saint John and listed as the liaison person for the Saint John Seawolves, says: "Our club teams contribute to the health and happiness of our students and allow everyone to get involved in friendly competition, which increases school spirit.''

The release further states: the philosophy of club teams at the university level is "to promote health and wellness, and physical skill development. These interests can be competitive, recreational or instructional in nature.''

In other words, if you're expecting to see a rebirth of the annual knock 'em down, drag 'em out battles between UNB and Mount Allison Mounties, or the return of them big bad Huskies from Saint Mary's, it ain't gonna happen. The Axemen from Acadia aren't coming here any time soon. And neither are the St. Francis Xavier X-Men.

And if you're expecting to make the trek down to College Field on a beautiful fall day with wine skins nestled underneath the jacket and listening to Dave Morell exclaim over the PA, "brought down by a host of tacklers,'' it ain't gonna happen, either.

But the Atlantic Football League (AFL), might be the next best thing.

The league makes its debut Saturday, Sept. 26. It will be played under the lights at Chapman Field at 7 p.m.

And two teams with virtually all university players will be pounding each other on the defensive and offensive lines, quarterbacks will be looking for that quick aerial strike to receivers and running backs will be zigging and zagging looking to find paydirt.

The plan is to invite Red Bombers alumni to mingle with the current guys sporting the red and black colours, talk a little football from yesteryear, maybe partake in a beverage or two, and really make a day/night of it.

It'll seem just like the old days.

Well, sort of.

But just because it's not CIS football with six-figure budgets and guys aren't coming in from all parts of the country, that doesn't mean the AFL concept is doomed to failure.

Just because it's low-budget (upstart costs: $40,000, operating costs: $10-$12,000), doesn't mean we're talking about a rinky-dink league.

Just because guys like Larry Wisniewski, Barry Odgen, Terry McIntyre, Dan Fougere, Pat O'Brien aren't appearing on TV every other day and hogging the limelight, that doesn't mean they aren't working behind the scenes and spending the hours doing what needs to be done with regards to setting up a league schedule, drafting a constitution, finding places to play and practice, securing fund-raising, ordering gear and the like and overseeing game-day responsibilities.

Just because the coaches and support staff are volunteers, that doesn't mean they're any less committed, or capable. Consider this coaching staff which is in place for the Red Bombers: Mike Dollimore, Mike DeMello, Peter Ayer, Jeff Taylor, David Knott, Jamie Edwards. All have played at a high level. All have made significant contributions to football in this area both at the high school and minor levels.

Just because players are going to be asked to pay to play to help defray costs ($200 for members of the Red Bombers), that doesn't mean they can't play, or haven't suited up for credible programs.

And just because admission costs are going to be reasonable ($5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, free for kids), that doesn't mean the product won't be worth watching.

If you haven't already guessed: the No. 1 criteria behind this project and what will make or break it: a passion for the game of football. Simple as that. That, my friends, is priceless.

They're giving themselves three years. Right now, it's the teams out of UNBF and UNBSJ and a team out of Moncton with players no doubt hailing from Universite de Moncton and Atlantic Baptist University.

High school football rules big-time in Moncton, the Maritime senior team there has been dominant for years, so guaranteed there won't be any lack of talent in that area.

There's talk of teams coming out of UPEI in Charlottetown and Dalhousie University in Halifax maybe even as early as 2010.

When football was a varsity sport at UNB, there were six high school teams in N.B., all based in Moncton. Now there are 17 teams.

Minor football is a going concern in most areas. Twenty years ago, there was nothing.

So, there's a feeder system in place.

"If we can have financial viability, a steady flow of kids who want to play and students who are willing to contribute to making it work, that's what will make it successful,'' says Wisniewski, who is listed as Red Bombers' GM and league board member.

"We're not looking to bring back CIS football. That's not the intent of what we're trying to achieve here.''

The AFL will involve players between the ages of 18-24. For the Red Bombers, the talent pool will come from kids attending either UNB or St. Thomas University, with perhaps the odd exception, says Wisniewski.

"We're looking at this as a developmental tool for youngsters in university or planning to attend university. If a guy comes out who might be working this year but plans to attend university the next year and still wants to play football, he'd be a guy we might consider. You might get one or two guys like that. Everybody else will be going to UNB or St. Thomas.''

Because of that, training camp won't begin until the week of Sept. 7 when the kids return to school. There's room for 50, but Wiz says the roster will likely be around 40.

The Seawolves will also be university-based.

Players will hail from the UNB in Saint John campus or the N.B. Community College. Like the operation up here, the Seawolves will function as a club team.

Dave Grandy, who coached at Saint John High School and the senior Wanderers, is the head coach.

"We want to give guys from the area who are looking to go to university and play some football,'' says Wiz. "I've gotten calls from guys who could play at the CIS level but really don't want to move. Guys who haven't been recruited just want a chance to play. That's what we're all about.''

David Ritchie can be contacted at or at 458-6484. His column appears each Wednesday.