By Kathy Yanchus, Metroland West Media Group
Well known Hamilton football coach and recruiter Joe Wade has been named the head coach of the Hamilton Ironmen Football Organization’s varsity squad.
“He has watched a tremendous amount of football in the area and knows the area kids very, very well,” said Dan Fournier, past president of the Ironmen and current general manager of the varsity team.
Wade’s tight community connections, coaching experiences at Cardinal Newman and Cathedral high schools and recruiting association with York University, all factored into the decision. Wade played football for Cathedral, earned a scholarship to play tightend at the University of Houston and now owns and operates Next Level Football, assisting many kids in their quest to play the game at the CIS and NCAA level.
“Our mission is to get our kids developed to the next level. From an Ironmen perspective, our job is to put the kids in a position to show their abilities to move on, and with Joe involved now, it gives us better access to the CIS programs, how the recruiters look at players, what their academic eligibility requirements are, because that’s huge.”
Senior varsity players are 17 to 19, and if their dream is to pursue football at the post-secondary level, it’s imperative they are on the right academic path, said Fournier. “Each school has a different academic eligibility percentage. With coach Wade on board, he’ll be able to identify that with those kids early, so they can make the changes they need to make in high school to prepare them academically, not only football-wise.”
If you look at athletic ability alone, Hamilton probably has per capita, the best football players in the province, said Fournier.
“The challenge you run into is, are they academically eligible? We take the schooling end of it pretty seriously. It’s great that we can develop football, and we play in the Ontario Varsity (Football) League (OVFL), which is the biggest varsity league in Ontario. All those kinds of things are nice and are important, but if you’re not aware of what your academic eligibility is, it’s pointless.”
There is “nothing worse and I’ve seen it happen” where a Grade 12 student who is an amazing football player, could play at the university level, but is held back because he wasn’t taking the necessary subjects.
“So now he has to go back for an extra year to upgrade those marks when he could be going to university,” said Fournier.
Going into the new season, the Ironmen varsity team is ranked second provincially. Registrations will take place on January 19 and February 2 at the Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association (HAAA) on Charlton
Avenue West between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Approximately 100 players traditionally turn out for what is whittled down to a 60-man varsity team. The eight-game season begins the May 24 weekend and training camps, the week after March Break. The organization looks for kids who are not just solid football players, but good students, said Fournier.
Under the new coach, Fournier expects the varsity program focus will be on offense as opposed to the traditional defense-minded style of play.
“I think we’re going to see a considerable change in the direction of our play. I think we’re going to be a lot more explosive offensively than we’ve been in the past.”
That determination will rest with the coach, however, adds Fournier.
“We don’t go into any season with a pre-determined playbook. What our coaches do very well is they evaluate the kids coming in and they structure the style of play to the kids that they get.”
The Ironmen’s recruiting area encompasses Flamborough, Waterdown, Ancaster, Dundas and all of Hamilton. The OVFL covers a sprawling geographical area running from Sault Ste. Marie to Ottawa, over to Windsor and many points in between including London, Cambridge, Brampton, Pickering and Markham.
“We’re the only league that is truly all of Ontario,” said Fournier.
“We do get considerably more CIS and CJFL scouts coming out to our games just because we’re in the bigger cities and we’re truly all over Ontario. If kids want to go to the next level for football, the OVFL is definitely the league they want to play in.”
Wade said he is honoured for the opportunity to coach the Ironmen varsity team.
“There has been a lot of good work done by previous people and we’re just happy to come in and pick up where they left off and develop the kids.”
“Football is a big sport in this city …. so we produce a lot of good players here and there’s a good genuine desire to play this game, which is a beautiful game,” he said.
The Ironmen organization offers young football players not just an opportunity to play football, but receive sound academic counseling and be motivated to attend class and achieve good marks, said Wade.
Education is so important because you’re not going to play this game forever,” said Wade. “Every kid has the dream to go on and play in the NFL or the CFL. You can push them and help them develop those dreams, but the reality is you need to think past that and a lot of kids don’t think about that at a young age. We try to open their eyes, to focus on a backup plan which is their ºeducation.”