Big things will come in small packages for the New Westminster Hyacks varsity football team this season.
Returning provincial all-star Jeff Lugtu and 5-6 Marcel Wang will be anchoring the Hyack defensive corps as the team’s starting inside linebackers when the B.C. high school AAA season gets underway.
Lugtu, who last season finished second in the league with 91 solo tackles, will line up alongside longtime schoolmate Marcel Wang, when the Hyacks open the exhibition season south of the border against Blaine High School on Friday, Sept. 4.
With the departure of its senior defensive line to graduation last year, the onus will shift focus to the linebacking corps, who will be expected to take on a greater role in slowing down the opposition.
“Last year, we built our defence around the line. But this year, it’s going to be our linebackers,” said Hyack head coach Farhan Lalji.
“Both (Lugtu and Wang) are fast, physical and explosive,” added Lalji. “When they make hits, you feel them, and the defence rallies around them.”
Still, life could be tougher for the dynamic duo, if the D line does not slow the first wave of attack up front.
But Lalji is expecting a big senior year from the 5-9 Lugtu, a returning captain, and needs Wang to stay healthy.
Lugtu and Wang have known each other since Grade 3, when they both attended Queen Elizabeth Elementary and then continued on at Queensborough Middle School before attending NWSS.
Lugtu started in community ball in the junior bantam division, while Wang only started with the junior varsity team when he reached high school.
“We’ll be a good partnership,” said Lugtu. “I know whatever I do, he (Wang) is going to be there, and vice versa.
“I guess, I will have more responsibilities, but basically it’s not that much different. The line can do their job and because of them, I’ll be able to execute. I like it that Marcel will be my partner. He’s athletic and will help me out a lot.”
Wang is equally certain that Lugtu’s strong work ethic is going to rub off on him.
“He (Lugtu) plays with a lot of heart and intensity on the field and it helps me become even more intense,” said Wang.
“We both want to play fast and physical – beat the blocks right away. We want to make the quick read and to not let the offence make any yards. That’s our mentality.”
Lugtu summed it all up in one word – fearless.
“We may be small but we can create one hell of an impact,” Lugtu said. “The feeling is I can do it without relying on height and things like that.”
Being too short or too small is a football myth, he added. “We can play.”
What the varsity Hyacks have going for them is a sense of togetherness and family and community pride. Those three attributes have gone a long way in creating a unique culture on Friday nights at Mercer Stadium since the program was restarted in 2003.
The high school program is all about respect for others, said Wang. It’s about helping each other out – no cliques, each one helping the younger ones, where everyone becomes better from the experience, he added.
Football is also about building character, said Lugtu.
It’s not just about winning football games, he said, but more importantly building yourself up and every player around you.
Lalji believes the team will rely more this season on player rotation and playing as a unit, and will be better for it as well.
“We’ll be a more balanced team,” he said.
With league expectations wide open this season, Lalji is hopeful that consistency and execution could make for a surprising and promising year.
Perhaps the biggest lesson New West must learn this year is how not to beat itself.
“This group of seniors has done a lot of winning. In grades 7 and 8 as junior bantams they were dynamite. In JVs, they lost in the playoffs,” said Lalji. “You just have to have a belief you can beat the best team. You just have to know. That mindset has to be there.”