2 enfield players selected for Team Nova Scotia

Two Enfield football players have been selected to the provincial under-18 team. Kenzie MacNeil and Mitch Cross were recently announced as making the 40-man roster for Team Nova Scotia that will host the Canada Cup national championship July 11-17 at Acadia.

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ENFIELD: Two Enfield football players hope their selection to the provincial under-18 team will get them to the next level in their blossoming careers.

Kenzie MacNeil and Mitch Cross, both of Enfield, were recently announced as making the 40-man roster for Team Nova Scotia that will host the Canada Cup national championship July 11-17 at Acadia University in Wolfville. It will mark a return after five years away from the tournament for the team.

Both MacNeil and Cross play in the Fall River Minor Football program. The two are also members of the Lockview High School boys Dragons football team.

MacNeil began playing the sport five years ago after picking up the itch from watching CFL and NFL games on television. He turned to the Fall River league.

“I was really enjoying it and I wanted to play at the next level,” MacNeil said. “It was a good opportunity for me to try out for the provincial team.”

Cross took a different route to the team. He had been attending Hants East Rural High School before getting a transfer to Lockview so he could continue playing the sport at the Fall River school. That change has helped develop his game and provide him the opportunity to pursue his passion for the sport.

“I wanted to step it up and bring it to the next level and continue playing the sport, gaining more experience,” Cross said.

Both players are defensive backs on the team, tasked with keeping the other team’s defensive linemen away from the quarterback and receivers.

MacNeil, 17, said he finds there is a difference between football and other sports, in which a team relies on the striker to lead the way.

“It’s not like other sports, where one player does it all,” he added. “It’s a team sport. You do it as a team. In football, it really takes a team effort to win.”

Heading into the tournament, the two have high expectations after two years of working as a team.

“I expect to win,” MacNeil said. “We have a good enough team. I definitely think we can do it.”

For the duo, who are best friends off the football field, the Canada Cup is to them what the Stanley Cup is to NHL players like Sidney Crosby.

“As of right now, it’s the highest thing you can win,” he said. “We haven’t won anything this big before so it’s pretty much like the Stanley Cup.”

Head coach Chris Valardo said it will be Nova Scotia’s first foray into the Canada Cup since 2005. He is a coach with the Fall River Minor Football program, where he coaches both MacNeil and Cross.

“I think the attributes they bring to the team are their dedication and hard work,” Valardo said. “They’re not the biggest guys in the world. They’re not the fastest, but they bring a cerebral approach to the game. Both are very intelligent young men and they work really hard and are great team players. That’s what football’s all about.”

He’s hopeful the exposure the tournament gives the sport in the province may help boost numbers within ongoing football programs.

“We want to go and compete,” Valardo said. “We’re at a significant disadvantage size-wise. If you look at our program, we selected our team from about 100 athletes. Alberta invited 650 athletes to their tryout camps. We don’t have the size or resources of the other provinces.”

He firmly believes the players on the N.S. team are as good as the ones on opposing teams, with the difference being numbers.

That was evident at the recently completed Wilson Challenge Cup in Quebec. Nova Scotia went undefeated, earning the tournament title by defeating the Quebec Midget AAA football champions in the final.

“We’re confident in our ability,” he said. “We feel we’re going to stack up quite well against all the teams. We just want to be competitive.”

So does playing such a high calibre tournament on home soil bring any added pressure for the two rookie players?

“It’s not much extra pressure being the underdogs,” Cross said. “No one expects us to win. I think we will with the team we have.”

“There is pressure, but, at the same time, we don’t have pressure because we don’t have anything to lose,” MacNeil interjected

If that wasn’t enough, the tournament is expected to have many scouts from Canadian Interuniversity Sport and several American colleges and universities in attendance.

“It’s a major recruiting opportunity for all the universities,” Valardo said. “It’s a real showcase of not only Nova Scotia talent but high school-aged talent across the country.”

The team also has three Fall River players on its roster. They include Patrick LeClair, Liam Fair and Kyle Aitken. The team’s physician is Dr. Iain MacNeil, Kenzie’s dad, from Elmsdale Medical Centre.

The week-long championship will feature two teams from Ontario, and one each from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and the host, Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia begins play against Alberta following the opening ceremonies on July 11 at 1:30 p.m. Action continues with four games on July 14 beginning at 10 a.m. and running until 10 p.m., and four more games on July 17, beginning at 10 a.m. The gold medal final will be played that night at 7 p.m.


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