Zeljko Stefanovic admits that the idea of forming a football team in the dead of winter to travel to take on some teams in Texas was a little out there.
However, now that the South Sask. Selects are a reality, their head coach is pretty excited about the possibilities in store for the province’s first 12-and-under select football team.
“I talked to Len (Antonini) who’s in charge of Regina Minor Football and I asked him what he thought of the idea and he thought I was crazy, but he said he thought I would have a lot of interest,” said Stefanovic who contacted minor football leagues and teams across the province to further gauge interest.
“Lo and behold we had 65-70 kids show up at our first tryout.”
From that tryout the 31 players who will play for the South Sask. Selects were chosen. The team features players from a dozen communities in southern Saskatchewan.
On Feb. 9-10 they will take part in the Red Raiders’ International Bowl in San Antonio, Texas — a high-end football tournament that will feature some top teams from Texas, plus teams from Mexico.
“The coaches down there are really excited about having us down,” said Stefanovic. “We’re expecting the competition to pretty stiff.”
The Stefanovics have taken their three sons — Mike, Matt and Ryan — to camps in the U.S. for the past six years. That has exposed them to the level of play south of the border and the opportunities available to improve.
When all three were selected to attend the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in Dallas last year the idea of forming a high level team began.
“I looked at it and thought ‘we can compete,’” said Stefanovic who is an assistant coach for the Vanier Vikings. “I think we’ll be able to compete, but they do things at a whole other level — they’re practicing three or four times a week right now to prepare for the tournament.”
The Moose Jaw minor football league is represented by eight players: running back Braylen Breton, receiver Payton Chow, defensive back Houston Ramage, linebacker Brant Schwengler, defensive linemen Dalton Hansen, Danton Hartman and Brodan Rempel along with quarterback/slotback Ryan Stefanovic.
Rempel is from Caronport and the team also has players representing Assiniboia, Regina, Pilot Butte, Fort Qu’Appelle, Carlyle, Wymark, Springside, Swift Current, Weyburn and Wood Mountain in addition to the Moose Jaw players.
Mike Stefanovic, who plays for the Univ. of Regina Rams, is helping coach the team.
They practiced indoors at the YaraCentre this weekend as they try to come together as a team and adapt to four-down football.
“It would be impossible (without the facility),” said Stefanovic who said adapting to using 11 players hasn’t been too difficult defensively, but on the offensive side of the ball it’s been a little more challenging.
“Having limited motion has been tough, but other than that ... They’re young guys, they’re just sponges,” he said.
The team is officially considered a 12-and-under team in the tournament, but because the ages are based on the American school calendar, they actually had six 13-year-olds who are eligible to play.
They are guaranteed two games in San Antonio and don’t know yet who they will face.