by Ben J Deadman
Unless you’ve been living in a cave or suffered a serious preseason bell-ringing it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the 2017 BAFA season is now well underway.
For the National league teams the long uphill of preseason is over, and the giddy rollercoaster of regular season play has begun.
University teams across the UK are no-doubt reflecting on a season that I’m sure seemed to pass far too quickly. Players everywhere are undoubtedly courting offers from a variety of National Leagues teams and enjoying the unfamiliar Saturday night freedom whilst their coaches are tasked yet again with coming up with a plan to stop the Stirling Clansmen next year that doesn’t involve a 900ft wall of ice.
Expansion is usually the offseason buzz word for most organisations, more plays for the playbook, greater depth at each position and of course more muscle on each player.
But it’s not only the teams that have been working hard in the off-season, and in keeping with this idea more than just the waistlines of linemen everywhere have expanded over the off-season break. The BAFA National Leagues itself has grown yet again. 6 new teams have entered Division Two and Division One has now grown to contain 20 teams over 4 conferences.
On top of these new additions to the league the number of teams at associate level continues to grow. For those of you not aware, the associate process is the route set out by BAFA for teams looking to join the league structure.
Usually on a 2 year timeline, the process stipulates a ‘development year’ followed by a ‘competitive year’ and requires prospective teams to demonstrate that they can build an organisation that has longevity and can add something to the leagues competitive ethos.
As the season progress Double Coverage is going to be taking a closer look at the associate teams currently involved in this process, some just beginning their football journey, others already eager for league play. We’re starting this week with the Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos.
The Mosquitos are an adult contact team, and train each week at Sir Frederic Osborn School in Welwyn Garden City, where they also plan to host this year’s home fixtures. The club is run by committee, a dedicated mix of members and players, led by the Chairman alongside Martin Ward, the team’s Head Coach.
What makes the Mosquitos of particular interest is their decision to forgo the 2017 season and opt for another year as an associate team; kicker and media officer for the club, Paul Lily, describes the thought process behind this;
As a committee and players we decided to put on hold our application until the following season. This gives us the time required to put the finishing touches to a process that will see us become a sustainable club for years to come. Our players and coaches will have another year’s experience and we can continue to make strides off the pitch as well.
This effort to grow the club before stepping into a competitive league has already shown to be having an effect on the Mosquitos, their general manager highlighting the progress made since last season;
This time last year we had 2 people signed up to BAFA, by end of March there were 22. We currently have 55 players registered and expect that to continue to rise.
As most newcomers to the sport quickly come to realise football can be as much a game of attrition as it is a game of athletic ability or skill, especially at the amateur level.
The ability to have players specialising in their positions is a luxury only afforded to teams with consistently high turnouts at both practice and games, and seems to be something the Mosquitos are keen to capitalise on.
The difference this season seems to have permeated even at player level, wide receiver Aaron Marshall, formerly of the Northumbria Mustangs spoke on the improvements over previous seasons;
[last year] we had some low numbers, and we got blown away in the last few quarters.
When asked to describe the difference this year his response was ‘discipline and hustle’ before going on to explain that an emphasis on players really learning the playbook and doing their best to get involved whenever and wherever possible has been crucial so far this season.
Despite their decision to remain at the associate level this season the team in general seem intent on performing to the best of their ability on the field, Lily explained;
We’re all excited for the next season where we anticipate playing 10 games to fully replicate a year in the league and test our abilities against both Associate and League teams. We just want to win football games like everyone else!
He himself says he is particularly looking forward to competitive games, some wins and watching the team continue to improve.
Assistant Defensive Coordinator and former Dundee Hurricanes DB Callum Durrand played last season but has been forced to embrace more of a coaching role this year due to an injury, his experience with the club covers more perspectives than other members may have had and was keen to share these;
Last year was a tough year, we struggled particularly with numbers, this year we’ve done much better with numbers, meaning we can organise better training sessions and have players learning the playbook from day one.
His hope for the season is that the club can take what it learned from last season and turn it into wins. Something Durrand is confident the team can do as long as they can continue to integrate the new players into the Mosquitos’ system.
The Mosquitos kicked off their 2017 campaign with a journey to Norwich which saw them struggle to establish a run game against a sturdy Devils defensive front.
Despite repeated attempts to get their offence rolling the Mosquitos fell behind by 26 points before TE Jason Neuman hauled in a deep ball over the middle and took it to the house before halftime. A 2 point conversion added further cause for celebration when Offensive Coordinator Matt Stickland showed the rookies he’s still got what it takes, hanging on to a pass in a crowded end zone and copping a big hit for his troubles.
Norwich, no doubt stung by the loss of their shutout, went on to score several more times in the second half and finished the game as 41-8 victors.
While the pass in question was the only Mosquito touchdown of the day the sideline was unsurprisingly excited to see that their squad had big play potential; QB Finley Harris has both the range and the touch to make this a long summer for the league’s DBs, and if the UoB Lion can shake the unnatural feeling of throwing to a former Hertfordshire Hurricane, there are signs this pairing could well become a recurring theme for the Mosquitos.
The Mosquito coaching staff certainly had things to work on at practice following the loss, and it appears that they did exactly that, their next (and coincidentally first home) game against the Kings Lynn Patriots started much the same way, with the visiting Patriots taking an early 13-0 lead before a quick score before the half from Stickland left the game 13-6 at the break.
The Patriots began the second half in ideal fashion, scoring twice more and establishing 19 point lead. However this time the Mosquitos were not to be denied, a revitalised run game had the Patriots on the back foot and gave the Mosquitos space to claw the game back to within one score art 25-20, TE Neuman doubling his season total with a second touchdown along with the WR Marshall grabbing his first of the campaign.
Despite this the fourth quarter was winding down with the Patriots in possession of both the ball and the lead, that is until a pivotal interception by CB Rob Love gave the Mosquitos excellent field position and QB Harris a chance to steal the victory with a fourth down pass to Neuman. The catch sealed the win for the Mosquitos with a final score of 34-32, their first W in franchise history and at their new home ground to boot; it also secured Harris his fifth TD of the day along with the title of game MVP.
Anyone keen to see some Mosquito football in person should head down to Sir Frederic Osborn School, Welwyn Garden City AL7 2AF, on Saturday 10 June for 1pm. The Mosquitos will be hoping to capitalise on the momentum of their previous victory and continue their unbeaten, albeit fledgling record, at home against the Somerset Wyverns.