The 2003 season was a year of change for the North Bay Bulldogs going from the team with the highest passing yards in 2002 to the league’s best rushing game in 2003 with over 1,340 yards.
“There were some who believed we needed to pass to be successful because we did not have the personnel to be successful on the ground in the Northern Football Conference, “ head coach Marc Mathon said.
“I guess we proved that to be wrong,” he said.
For the first time in many years, a North Bay player led the league in combined rushing and receiving yards from scrimmage.
Running Back Mick Bilz gained 270 yards receiving and 750 yards rushing and became the NFC’s only 1,000-yard gainer in 2003.
“The guys that have to share in the credit for that achievement are the offensive line and fullbacks for opening the holes so well,” Bilz said.
Mark McLeod stepped into the role of quarterback after Dave Wilson sustained a season ending injury to his throwing hand in pre-season.
McLeod surprised the league with his scrambling abilities by rushing for 381 yards and a 7.8 average per carry and good for the league’s seventh highest rushing yards gainer.
He led the team to a 5-3 record and was second in the league in passing yards. After outplaying the Oshawa Hawkeyes on the stats sheet in the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs’ season came to a disappointing end, dropping a 26-24 decision.
“In a broad sense, the area we absolutely need to improve is to eliminate the late scores on us,” Mathon said.
“ Last year we allowed six of the 16 touchdowns against us in the last two minutes of the half of the game. Four of them directly resulted in three of the four losses we had last year including the quarterfinal game,” he explained.
“Football being a team sport, the responsibility for those late TDs rests on everyone’s shoulders, including offence, special teams and the defence. We just have to bring more focus to our game in the last two minutes of each half,” he said.
“ Mental discipline will be key to 2004,” he added.
The off-season seems to have been going well with many of the core players training harder and actively recruiting new players. Based on the recruitment work that club has done there appears to be more improvement on the way for the Bulldogs for 2004.
“Over the past couple of months we’re impressed with the good quality of new players that have stepped forward with an interest in being part of our club,” Mathon stated.
The NFC defensive player of the year Brad Kerr will once again anchor the defence with the linebacking corps returning from last year.
Wilson will return and play quarterback after missing last year and playing slotback and wide receiver in 2001 and 2002.
Wilson played quarterback in 2000 and was a quarterback for the Ottawa Gee Gees.
“David now has two years of experience under his belt as a receiver and he is very much ready and looking forward to this season,” Mathon said.
“I know the guys had a lot of fun last year and& I missed it, so I am looking forward to playing with this group this year,” Wilson said.
The season opener is in Mississauga June 5 with the Bulldogs taking on the Wolverines for the fifth time in their three-year existence.
The Bulldogs have not beaten the Wolverines yet and will be working very hard this training camp to put out their best effort to finally get a win.
The pre-season begins Tuesday at the Loose Moose on Main Street where the club is holding its annual player registration session from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Players interested need to bring a copy of their birth certificate and photo ID, if they have never played in the NFC before.
Training camp begins Sunday May 2 with a practice at 3 p.m. at the Chippewa Secondary School football field.
Practices will continue on Tuesdays, Thursdays and the weekends throughout May. The annual Black and Gold scrimmage is scheduled for Friday, May 28 at 7 p.m. at Rolly Fischer Field.
People interested in playing or working with the Bulldogs should attend Tuesday’s registration session at the Moose or contact Mathon at 744-1618.