Panthers grads to tackle Canada’s best at Wilson Challenge in Montreal

SYDNEY — Their helmets don’t have as many dents and their cleats may not have the same aromatic potency as other players.

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But despite only having a year each of football under their belts, Michael MacMillan and Jacob Rigby will line up against the best football talent from across the country next week.

They Panthers football graduates fought their way onto the roster of the Nova Scotia under-17 team this summer. The club will play in the 2010 Wilson Challenge starting Thursday at McGill Stadium in Montreal, where the Bluenose team will defend its title.

The boys faced a number of challenges along with their relative inexperience. Heading to practices and games in Halifax each week was a major commitment.

“There was a lot of stuff I really didn’t know, but I learned it when I got there,” said MacMillan, 15, of Sydney, a 5-11, 190-pound linebacker.

“It was a bit of a learning curve going through everything just learning all the processes, with new coaching techniques and everything else,” added Rigby, a 6-2, 278-pound left tackle from Whitney Pier.

Cape Breton Regional Minor Football returned to the field last summer, after a six-year hiatus, under the watchful eye of head coach Lorne Burke. The Panthers bantam team competed in the 11-team provincial league and despite taking their lumps early on, posted a respectable 3-5-0 mark and were defeated in the league’s Tier 2 playoff semifinal by the Highland Renegades, 19-13 in overtime.

“There was a lot of stuff I really didn’t know, but I learned it when I got there.” – Sydney native Michael MacMillan

MacMillan and Rigby chalked up their first year in organized football as a positive experience and good preparation for their current role on the provincial squad.

“I’ve always wanted to play football,” said MacMillan. “My neighbour used to come home with his football gear and I always wanted to play.

“It’s amazing, it opened so many doorways up for me, just athletically, academically and fitness-wise,” said Rigby. “I have more respect for myself. I feel better, I was doing something more and had great physical fitness.”

Nova Scotia opens play Thursday at 9:30 p.m. Atlantic time against the Richelieu Pirates. July 11, they’ll challenge the St. Bruno Barons at 6:30 p.m. AT. Playoff games will be played July 13 and July 15, with the finals slated for July 18.

“I’ll have more experience just to better myself as a player and I have more experience for when I’m older, I can say I represented my province and I’m proud of myself for what I did in the sport,” said Rigby.


Photo: Michael MacMillan of Sydney, left, and Jacob Rigby of Whitney Pier were named to the roster of the Nova Scotia under-17 football team that will compete at the 2010 Wilson Challenge starting Thursday in Montreal. T.J. Colello – Cape Breton Post

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