During this centennial year, the Sarnia Imperials are in a gift-giving mood.
“We want to give (the city) a championship,” said club president and head coach Jake Cherski, who has challenged his players to remember their two-time Grey Cup championship roots and play with extra pride this season.
Cherski says the 2014 version of the Imperials is “very talented” and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t contend for a Northern Football Conference title.
“I’m very excited about this season.” Cherski said. “I know that coaches always say that before every season, but we’ve got some really good talent this year.”
The Imperials will carry a roster of 30 to 35 players, with about half of them rookies.
The team will include players from Sarnia-Lambton, Wallaceburg, Chatham and St. Thomas.
“Our skilled positions are very deep and our (offensive and defensive) lines are very athletic,” he added.
Ricky Gorton is quarterback. He guided the offence at LCCVI in Petrolia several years ago, before moving to linebacker during his CIS career with the University of Guelph Gryphons.
“He’s a very smart quarterback with a big arm,” said Cherski.
The Imperials coaching staff includes Cherski, offensive co-ordinator Murray Griffin, defensive co-ordinator Michael Fioroni, special teams playing coach Kevin Allear and strength and conditioning coach Jim Hext.
Coming off a 3-6 campaign in 2013, which included a 29-14 loss to the Tri-City Outlaws in Cambridge in the divisional semi-finals, Sarnia opens its 2014 home schedule Saturday, May 31 against the Oakville Longhorns at Norm Perry Park at 7 p.m.
The league features 11 teams this season, including the return of the former Toronto Titans, now known as the GTA All-Stars, and the Hamilton Steel City Patriots, having relocated from Oshawa.
As well as contending for a crown, the Imperials also want to give back to the community in other ways. They will share proceeds from community barbeques at home games with the local chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society, and in conjunction with the Sarnia Saints Rugby Club will offer free admission to its home game on June 21.
– Barry Wright