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Quality Inn - Sudbury
Rayside-Balfour Canadians
Friday, Aug. 18, 2017
McKnight takes the plunge to head coaching ranks
2017-05-03
by Randy Pascal

The pipeline of young football coaches in Sudbury is nowhere close to drying up yet.

With Lo-Ellen gridiron mentor Kevin Ellsworth opting to step away from the Sudbury Jr Gladiators this summer, the timing was right to signal the entry of J.J. McKnight to the rank of head coaches.

With several years of experience working hand in hand with Reg Bonin and the Lively Hawks, added to time already spent with the Jr Gladiators, garnering knowledge from the likes of Neil Petrin, Aaron Rehel, Kevin Garbuio and both Ellsworth and Bonin, McKnight felt as prepared as ever to tackle the challenge before him.

"It's impossible not to pick up things with coaches of that caliber," noted McKnight, as on field practices commenced earlier this week. "I've picked up things with just about every coach I have ever been around, and mixed that up with my own mentality and my own playing style."

"I like to think that I brought that over to my coaching side. It's all kind of gelled together. It's been about ten years or so, and I think that I'm finally figuring out my philosophy. I'm getting there."

"I'm looking forward to making all of those guys I mentioned, making them proud, living up to their standards," McKnight added. "It's not easy to follow an Ellsworth or a Bonin. I'm just going to try and hang in there and figure it out as we go."

Thankfully, the former member of the Sudbury Northerners, back in the day, walked into what appears to be a very stable environment this summer. "I couldn't be happier right now, our numbers are way above expectations, I think, for this year," he said.

"Last I checked, we are somewhere around the 40 to 45 range, which is perfect for this level. In that 40 to 45, we've got a whole bunch of new blood, and some guys coming back, especially in the trenches, where I think it's really going to help us take the next step."

In a city where big men is often the most difficult commodity to find, McKnight and the Jr Glads are bucking the trend. "You start with Austin Hill," said McKnight. "He's been doing a lot of great things, both in town and down south. He was great for us last year."

"He's got some colleagues on the offensive and defensive lines that are really going to make an impact for us this year, guys like James Bronicheski. And we've got some kids coming in from Lo-Ellen that we are excited to see."

"Our skill positions are a little bit more of a mystery," McKnight admitted. "Liam Cousineau is back. We've got some receivers coming back. Robbie Zulich is a guy that we're looking to taking his next progression up the ranks."

"But our big kids are going to be our strength, this year, it seems. Our skill positions are more consistent, from our top to bottom guy, but maybe we don't have those high end athletes to really take the top off a defense and spring a big play."

"We'll see if we have those guys, but we're not sure who that might be right now." Practicing several nights a week at the James Jerome Sports Complex, the Junior Gladiators will open their 2017 season at home on May 27th, welcoming the Toronto Jr Argonauts to town for a 1:00 p.m. start.

Anyone seeking more information on the team, which caters to athletes from ages 14 to 16, should contact McKnight at "mr.jamesmcknight@gmail.com", or team president Brian Flesher at "brianjf290@gmail.com".

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