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Sunday, Apr. 22, 2018
Spartans open on the road against the Oakville Longhorns
by Randy Pascal

Long-time Sudbury Spartans' lineman Walter Wilson is back in the coaching ranks, and he's thrilled that things have not remained status quo since the last time he stood along the sidelines three years ago.

"There's a lot of young blood here that is impressive," said Wilson, handling the duties of special teams co-ordinator for head coach Junior Labrosse and company. "It's good to see some kids that I haven't played with or coached before, with a nice mix of vets."

It's that combination that will open the 2017 NFC (Northern Football Conference) season tomorrow night, taking to the road to face the Oakville Longhorns. "Week one is to get guys physically prepared, give them some basic packages and see if we can find a rhythm, something to build on," added Wilson.

"No team at this junction in the season is going to be a finished product." Thankfully, the Spartans can lean on a heavy dose of experience in several key areas, including the defensive line, where stalwarts Kevin White and Joe Shyminsky welcome back Andrew Gillis, along with former high school defensive player of the year, Sam Sedore.

Though he has lined up both at linebacker and defensive back while at Lockerby and also with the Spartans, Gillis is anxious to develop even more as a key component of the front four. "I played there for the majority of last season, so I'm getting more used to playing there," noted the 24 year old lineman.

"I find that I am still trying to burn a lot of guys, solely on speed. If I can get my hands more into it, it will help me with some of the smaller guys that are quicker." In a league in which teams tend to vary substantially in terms of their propensity to focus offensively on the run or the pass, Gillis is very gradually starting to feel a little more comfortable defending both.

"The pass is a little easier," he said. "I'm just trying to beat the one guy, I'm not trying to read anything. With the run, you're trying to get a feel for where the lineman is trying to push you."

Thankfully, he has plenty of help in this area, where the Sudbury front seven is ready to make a statement. "We stuff the run pretty well," he said. "Our linebackers flow really well, they're very experienced, they really know what they're doing."

"And then with Kevin (White), we have a lot of experience on the defensive front, a guy who knows what everyone is doing all of the time." Behind them, Erik Conrad and Eric Breault anchor the linebacking corps, while the defensive secondary is a mix of the old and the new, with veterans Matt Furino and Chris Tarini helping to mentor a young influx of talent that includes Miller Donnelly and Reinhardt Grobler.

While the schedule was still showing as "unofficial", given the recent departure of the Sault Ste Marie franchise this year, the thought of playing five of eight games against a combination of the North Bay Bulldogs and Oakville presents some interesting opportunities for the locals.

"Any schedule where we don't have to go down to Sarnia is good with me," laughed Gillis. "If we don't have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to take a bus, that's always nice."

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