The Elmwood Giants football team is off to a great start for the second straight year, but it’s doing it with a vastly different roster.
After an 8-2 season that saw the Giants lose to Sisler in the Free Press Bowl — the championship game of the Currie (A) Division — the squad is unbeaten through its first five games of 2012.
No one is as surprised by the continued success as head coach Nathan Falk, who expected some growing pains after the team graduated 21 of its 24 starters from last season.
"We only have four Grade 12s," Falk said. "When we started the season, my goal was to be 4-3. It’s good to see the young players succeed."
Knowing how many players were going to be leaving the school, Falk and his staff briefly wondered last winter if they’d even be able to field a team this fall. When 40 players came out for spring camp, that worry went away, but the Giants were still littered with question marks.
"We got a couple who were playing for the East Side Eagles," Falk said, "but the rest wouldn’t have been playing anywhere."
The Giants are so raw that four of the five starting offensive linemen had never played organized football before this season.
"We have a lot of good athletes that quickly turned into football players," the coach said.
Defensive captain Andrew Ricard, a Grade 11 linebacker, said he knew the team would be OK when he saw how quickly some of the new additions picked up the basics.
"We have some good kids that came out of nowhere and shocked the coaches, and a few of us," Ricard said. "They stepped it up in practice and got starting spots."
The team’s linchpin has been its defence, which has allowed only two touchdowns in the five games.
"Elmwood’s always had a good defence," Ricard said. "I knew we were going to have the same solid defence we had last year."
Falk believes there are five or six teams with a shot at winning the division, and his Giants are one of those teams. Their biggest test of the regular season will come in the final game, when they face the Steinbach Sabres, who are also undefeated and beat the Giants 27-0 in a pre-season game.
"They’re a powerhouse. That’ll be a good measure going into the playoffs," Falk said. "It will show us what we need to work on."
Ricard said the Sabres reminded him of last year’s Elmwood team — a team that was very good, but could be beaten. Whatever happens in the regular-season finale, he expects there to be a rematch at some point in the playoffs.
"It’s going to be a dogfight," Ricard said. "We have to be our best."
The Giants face St. John’s on Oct. 11 at 4:30 p.m. at Nomads Field and close the season on Oct. 19 at 4:30 in Steinbach.