Strange conundrums, indeed.
The Trojans of Vincent Massey Collegiate, a public school in Manitoba, Canada, love their football. That’s why Thursday brings both exhilaration and bittersweet sacrifice.
“The (Oakland) Raiders and (Green Bay) Packers play in Winnipeg this Thursday,” Trojans football coach Kelsey McKay said by phone on Tuesday night. “But we’re going to Hawaii.”
Vincent Massey will play Waialua on Friday night at Tosh Nakasone Field. Waialua is 1-1 after a win over Nanakuli and a loss to Roosevelt.
For the Trojans, this is a mammoth preseason journey. First, they fly out of Winnipeg at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday and land in Honolulu at 9:30 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time. After a night’s rest in Waikiki, they’ll get a morning practice in, and roughly 12 hours later, will trek to the North Shore to play the Bulldogs.
“We’ll wake up and work out in the morning. Walk across the street, shake out the cobwebs out a little bit,” McKay said. “I’m hoping our bodies haven’t changed too much with the time change.”
Hope can be a good thing. Jet lag, not so good. If it takes two to three days for the lingering effects of air travel to peak, the Trojans have planned their voyage with precision.
>> Vincent Massey Collegiate to Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport: 7.1 miles, a 23-minute drive.
>> Air travel, Winnipeg to Honolulu: 10 hours, 40 minutes. That’s 3,808 miles. Surprised? Manitoba is generally at the North Dakota-Minnesota border. That’s why a former Trojan plays for the University of North Dakota and is an NFL prospect.
“This is our 11th year of existence as a program,” McKay said.
The vault from the early years to now has been interesting. When the Trojans visited Leilehua, they were still having growing pains.
“That was year five for us. We were pretty young. Since then, one kid who was on that team he plays D-I at North Dakota, Mason Bennett. I visited with him a couple of weeks ago and he was still excited about that trip,” McKay said.
>> From Daniel K. Inouye International Airport to their hotel: 9.7 miles. That’s a 29-minute ride.
This is why the functionality of getting up on Friday morning, walking across the road to Kapiolani Park to work out, might be the most pleasurable form of travel for the Trojans this week.
>> From Waikiki to Waialua High and Intermediate School: 32.9 miles. Depending on traffic, which will be gnarly on a Friday afternoon, it could be a 3-hour drive. If the Trojans leave town earlier, it should be around 54 minutes.
Then, they put on the pads and helmets, and play football. How does a school from central Canada wind up at a rural campus on Oahu?
Every two years, the Trojans travel. They’ve been to Italy (2017), where they played US Army base school teams. Four years ago, they went to the Big Island and edged Kealakehe, 26-21. In ’13, some local fans will recall Vincent Massey playing the Leilehua Mules at Hugh Yoshida Stadium. That was a lopsided win for the Mules.
“They called me. They wanted to play someone more their school size,” Waialua athletics director Bryce Kaneshiro said. “I looked at their site and they look pretty big. For us, it’s hard to get a preseason (or exhibition) game, so someone comes knocking on our door…”
Vincent Massey Collegiate, a public school, has an enrollment of roughly 1,300. There are actually two schools within one. English-speaking classes are offered to students in grades 10-12. French-speaking classes are available to students in grades 9-12.
“Outside of Quebec, we have the most French-speaking people of any school in Canada,” McKay said.
The football program is only in its 11th year. Compare that to the newest football program in the OIA, Kapolei, which fielded its first varsity football team in 2002 and was a competitive team from the start.
McKay has been steadfast, building a powerhouse program that went unbeaten in ’18, both the varsity and JV programs. Waialua suspended its JV team for the season last week due to low numbers. Vincent Massey is currently ranked No. 6 in Canada.
“We graduated 28 guys and brought up 28 more from our JV. It’s a very experienced team even though it’s a very young team,” McKay said.
One-third of the Trojans roster stayed home. Maybe they’ll check out the Packers-Raiders game.
“We’re traveling with 32 out of 47. We’re excited. Today (Tuesday) was their last practice before the trip,” McKay said. “Everybody was jittery, just excited to get on the plane.”
Though it is mid-August, getting to Hawaii with all of the challenges — financially, physically, logistically — will be a first for most of the Trojans. Temperatures in Winnipeg ranged from 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday down to 49 (Fahrenheit) on Wednesday. Humidity in Winnipeg is a comfortable 47 percent.
Conditions at Waialua are significantly different. The high temperature this week will be 90 degrees with humidity pushing near 70 percent.
Three of the Trojans were selected to play in Canada’s version of an All-American bowl game: running back Ishe Matanga (jersey number 9), wide receiver Walden Bannon (No. 84) and left tackle Victor Olaniran, a 6-foot-2, 282-pound senior. Olaniran wears No. 68.
“Victor is a verbal leader. He’s a big boy, solid, very aggressive. He’s the only senior on our offensive line,” said McKay, who added that three O-linemen who graduated are now playing college ball in Canada.
McKay hasn’t had a current look at Waialua, which lost three players to injury in a home loss to Roosevelt last week. Among them is talented wide receiver Hunter Apau (shoulder), who transferred back from Saint Louis. He was a standout pass catcher for the Bulldogs as a freshman two seasons ago.
“When I look at their roster, they’re not as big as us, but I looked at film (from ’18) and they have speed. Their quarterback (Justyce Lacar) is a very quick guy, throws the ball all right. We’re working on breaking down angles all week. Their running back (Storm Quilenderino) is good, too,” McKay said.
There is a reason why McKay keeps returning to the islands. He feels the aloha.
“Our goal is to go in there, compete, do the best we can, give everyone a time to play before the real season begins in Winnipeg. I had a nice talk with Coach (Lincoln) Barit today and we’re excited to go there,” McKay said. “The parents (at Waialua) will put on a dinner for us after the game. That’s very kind of them.”