I can hardly believe that this is our 10th year and from a little dream I hadon a farm in North Cornwall, the Cornish Shark’s team has blossomed into our Cornish Sharks Academy. Little did I know when I had that first meeting with Richard Atkinson and Martin Phillips, both ex Duchy Destroyers that we would together build something so special.
With help from so manplayers from the past and Cornish players who knew little or nothing about American Football and a wonderful bunch of Americans on the St Morgan’s base, we made the dream come true.
With a great rapport with Captain Jones who ran the base, he prepared me that the players would be leaving within 5 years as the base was closing and that was the start of the plans to build grass roots Cornish players to feed the Sharks!
Many wonderful players have been and gone from the organization but as we say at the Sharks “Once a Shark Always a Shark” and I am proud of all of them as they are to have been part of this fantastic family.
Happy 10th Anniversary Cornish Sharks!
Our build up to the 2015 season has been very different this year. We have put in huge amounts of hard work in the winter period with our new coaches and an aggressive recruiting campaign, which we haven’t needed to do for years. The recession has certainly had an effect the last couple of years, in terms of players and coaches struggling to juggle work/finances and time to play. Over the winter it was sad also see the demise of the Gloucester Centurions, who I always rated and who were always a pleasure to play against and party with after games. Having built relationships with many of their players over the years, I was honoured to coach some of them at the Coach Bob Shaw Memorial Game last October and so when Gloucester decided to pull out of the 2015 season, we were delighted that a number of players decided to become Sharks! This is a real commitment from these players; something we really admire and appreciate, as there are teams nearer geographically, but I believe that a shared respect has helped swelled our numbers by nine from the Centurions.
Another fantastic addition to our squad is the signing of our new defensive coordinator Mark Wilkins (known as Coach Diesel), who I coached in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the Thames Valley Chargers. Mark has gone on to build a fantastic career in coaching linebackers and defensive line, although he is talented at coaching all defensive positions. The team has taken to his “bend don’t break” coaching style which absorbs the other teams offensive momentum and he has got the players to buy into this assertive philosophy and they have accepted him fully as their defensive authority.
Other real stalwarts of the coaching squad have been existing experienced players who have stepped up to share their experience and take responsibility. Coach Ryan Girling, plays Offensive Line and although very young, has an amazing amount of knowledge having gained a scholarship as the first Cornish youngster to go to the USA and play college football. He has come back with an exceptional football brain and is coaching our OLine and the benefits can already be seen. Coached by our much loved Coach Bob Shaw, I am pleased to see a little of the “Shaw” coaching technique filtering through Ryan.
Alex Bonner, a ten-year veteran and original Shark plays secondary and has taken control of the Sharks secondary unit, which I have to say is playing the best I’ve seen for a number of years. He has worked hard at learning the positioning and tackling techniques required of secondary players and wouldn’t be out of place coaching on the national squad. Finally, Ronan O’Neil who plays defensive end, has become a really good running backs coach having played the position since he joined the Sharks. He has great coaching style and although in terms of years hasn’t played American football as a veteran, his strong union and league rugby background makes him extremely tough. He is a great special teams coach too and we have never had such good special teams coaching - Ronan has turned out to be the missing ingredient.
Before our first game against Swindon Storm three weeks ago, the team’s training involved full contact from early on so we were physical on both sides of the football. We had been written off by many due to our lack lustre performances the past two years, but people don’t appreciate the transitions the team has undergone in the past few years and how they take time to embed e.g. losing Coach Bob, retiring players, the loss of our American players when the base closed and our focus on the development of our grass roots youngsters coming up through the Academy, all taking place with the backdrop of the recession. We have overcome the changes, some planned and some not because the Sharks are a real family. Even players that are unable to commit due to work, injury or other issues, still take pride in calling themselves Sharks. So having been written off, I think it came as a bit of a shock that the Shark’s played as hard as they did in the first game of our season. We prepared well for the game against Swindon, which was an away game, and having never beaten Swindon and not having a perfect record of winning the first game of the seasons – historically due to our difficulty in getting pre-season scrimmages - we have adapted and realized we need to train smarter.
From the moment we got on the bus to Swindon, the team atmosphere was different to the last couple of years. The coaches went through their game plans with the players on the bus, players were reading their scripts for the game and their heads were focussed on the task ahead. When we arrived, all of our new away players joined us and we went out onto the field with a mindset that indicated from the word go we were determined and physical. Our first offensive drive went 90 yards and in for a touch down with a shell shocked Swindon sideline looking on. By half time we were leading 13-7 and in the second half we controlled the football with a great goal line stand, against an equally determined and tough Swindon fight back where their offense kept coming at us. But in the end even with two tds disallowed we had a further td and a successful field goal giving us the win with a scoreline of 17-6. Swindon Storm were very complimentary about how well we played and they are a team deserving of respect as they are a well coached and tough team as their second game proved when they beat Torbay 60+ points and this week beat Oxford.
Our away players come from Gloucester, Albert Case from London (an original Shark) and new additions living away but with Cornish roots such as Joby Wolfenden-Brown who is at University in Bangor and others who will be joining as the season continues once their commitments at university are over. QB Kieran Salais who has come up from our Youth Academy having started playing football at 13 years is one such distance player and coaches Team Cornwall Youth. Another stand out support for the team is Nate Coates who used to play but has now joined the Shark’s office as head of recruiting, stats and something of a “minister without portfolio” – basically willing to do anything to help the club.
We have a crop of under 19 players that will be coming up to Sharks seniors during this season but until they are ready they will be playing a couple of 5v5 exhibition games.
Coach Nigel Hoyte, who was a previous world champion with the London Monarchs in the World League and at Akron University has taken over the running of our under 17s squad and will be assisted again by Coach Kieran Salais when he returns from a great season playing for the Worcester Royals University team. Coach Patrick Ploenes is HC of St Austell Spartans and Coach Ryan Girling and Coach Ronan O’Neill are all helping the under 17s drive this year.
Coach Ploenes and Coach Perran Andrews are backbones of the Cornish Sharks Academy running the local teams in St Austell and Penzance respectively week in and week out bringing up the next generation of players.
The 5v5 u17s Team Cornwall will face a tough season and have a lot to prove after the success of the team last year when they made it to the national finals and came 3rd. In their division are the Marlow Wolves who are already 9 and 0 but we have yet to play. Marlow have a very large squad and we have probably one of the smallest squads in the UK. There is so much talent in this youth squad though and with a few additions we will be a force to reckoned with. We are still recruiting throughout the season as we did last year and hope that we will pick up some more rugby players now the rugby season has finished as it works well at keeping them fit during the summer. Sidney Cavell who was part of the Team Cornwall success last year has his last season as a youth player and was one of two Cornish Academy players to be selected for the GB Youth Squad in 2015 the other being Connor Jelbert. Other players from Team Cornwall last year who will play again this year are Cadan Brown, Ryan Batt, Ben Jenkin, Richard Scorse and Jamie Jones. They are joined this year with young players coming up as the next generation.
Other successes this year were one of our senior players who wants to move abroad and play football, only a rooky and by coincidence also called Ben Jenkins, received an invitation to go to California to try out with the Montreal Alouettes and is now on the radar of the Canadian football league who are interested in English players.
Of course we have all be following one of our own, young Elliot Hoyte who is at Boise State, having watched his performance over the winter he is definitely making a name for himself and carving out a career and we will watch his progress in the coming year.
Another ex Team Cornwall player George Evans, is also at Boise State having won a scholarship to train as a Coach and played a little rugby for Boise this year. He is another one to watch,
Finally we expect to announce some great news about our training facilities in the next couple of weeks but before that our first home game is next Saturday 9 May against Bristol Apache which will be a tough game but the Sharks are looking forward to welcoming Bristol to the Shark Tank!