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Aug 3 2022


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By Sam Laskaris

The 2021 high school football season has differed from previous years for the Northern Red Knights. The senior boys’ football squad has been forced to line up its own opponents for various exhibition contests since its Toronto public schools league is not operating this year. One thing that has been constant, however, is the Red Knights’ formation on defence. Tom Gretes, the legendary Northern defensive co-ordinator, plans the club’s strategy while opponents have the ball.

“We run an old school 4-2 defence that my dad has been playing here for at least a couple of decades,” said Gretes’ son George, who is in his first season as Northern’s head coach. “And we put our best athletes on defence.” George Gretes realizes Northern’s defensive players often don’t get as much recognition as those Red Knights on offence, who tend to be the ones scoring points. “They don’t get the glory,” he said. “A lot of times these guys work day in and day out. Linebackers are flying through the gaps. The defensive linemen guys – they don’t necessarily get an interception or a turnover. We’ve had a good number of turnovers this year. But a lot of times they don’t have that privilege and pleasure of getting the spotlight.”

The Red Knights’ bench boss, however, said those defensive players on the Northern roster are as talented as many previous club lineups. “Our defensive line is huge,” he said. “Our linebackers are tough. Our DBs are quick. They’re as good as any of our previous defences.”

Red Knights’ middle linebacker Yonatan Heled said football players should not be concerned about personal recognition.  “When it comes to playing as a team, if you start worrying about glory, whether you’re on offence or defence, then at the end of the day you’re not worried about having fun and doing the best that you can,” said the Grade 12 student. “It’s always about doing your job. I get the glory when we celebrate at the end. That’s what I love.” Heled, who started playing football at Northern in Grade 10, said he knew from his introduction to the sport how the program prides itself on defence. “There’s always a mindset of being aggressive and making a statement and kind of making yourself known,” he said. “So, the coaches kind of drill that into us from day one.”

Meanwhile, Carter Williston, the club’s starting outside linebacker who is in Grade 11, is fully on board with team success. “When your team wins, you win,” he said. “You can celebrate with your team.” Williston added he has his own method of achieving personal satisfaction.
“I’ve always liked to tackle,” he said. “I’ve always like to hit and how that makes me feel makes up for not getting all the glory all the time.” Williston added he’s thrilled to be playing for Tom Gretes. “He’s a good coach,” Williston said. “Tough on us sometimes. But you’ve always got to be prepared at practice when you’re around him. He is the best coach I’ve ever had, just by the fact he cares so much about us and how badly he wants us to win.” 

The Red Knights will play their final game of the 2021 campaign on Thursday (Nov. 18). The Richivew Saints, who eked out a 7-3 victory over Northern on Oct. 29, will provide the opposition. The opening kickoff for the match, which will be staged at Esther Shiner Stadium, is set for 12:30 p.m. Williston believes the Red Knights will dominate the Saints this time out. “We’re going to beat them,” he said. “We’re going to run up the score and keep the zero on the board. The first game I thought our defence played very well. And I felt they got one lucky touchdown with a little mistake on the defensive end. I don’t think that will happen again.”

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