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Strength, conditioning and resilience key ingredients of a high school football powerhouse

Strength, conditioning and resilience key ingredients of a high school football powerhouse
After 16 seasons at the helm, Heath Weir's Huron Heights Warriors hold a winning record of 146-20-2 and five provincial titles.

Carolyn Le Quéré - BVM Sports Contributor

NEWMARKET, Ontario (BVM) — The Huron Heights Warriors have played the last 16 seasons with an unrivaled record of 146-20-2. This Newmarket, Ontario high school team has consistently delivered a superior game and is setting the gold standard for high school football programs.

Taking the program to the next level is senior coach Heath Weir, who has been instrumental in establishing the foundations of the program. Leveraging his experiences coaching on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, Weir helped adopt new practices, creating a powerhouse high school team.

Born in Scarborough, Ontario, Weir played football throughout high school and into university.

“I was the first in my family to continue post-secondary studies,” Weir said. “I had supportive parents who encouraged me to pursue my interests and helped me through high school and university.”

Over the years, Weir developed an interest in coaching and was provided his first opportunities at Acadia University, when he led the defensive scout team in practice. He would move forward in coaching in the United States in the college ranks.

“I coached for two years at Acadia, followed by Arkansas State University and the University of Memphis,” Weir said.

For those looking to get into coaching, finding opportunities can be tough and highly competitive. Weir accepted his first jobs to gain experience and build a network, but after two years at Arkansas State, he had to return home to complete his teaching degree.

“At this time, I only had one semester left to complete my master’s degree and at 30 years old, I needed to move on,” he said.

After completing his teaching certification, Weir was recruited by Stouffville District Secondary School to launch a football program that had been closed for thirty years. Despite the challenge, Weir garnered community interest for the sport and raised $40,000 to get it up and running.

A year later, opportunity came knocking with a new offer to coach at the University of Memphis.

“Looking back at my experiences coaching at the U.S. universities, I crossed paths with many of today’s leading coaches, including Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Clay Helton, now at the University of Southern California,” Weir said. “During that time, I learned a lot.”

Fortunately for the Huron Heights football program, Weir’s next stop was at their doorstep.

Heath Weir, senior coach of Huron Heights Warriors. (Courtesy: Heath Weir)

“In 2004, I came back to Canada with a job offer at the York Region District School Board and joined the coaching staff at Huron Heights,” Weir said.

Based on his experiences, he had some ideas that he wanted to try out with his new team. Foremost, was his goal to shift the attitude of high school sports.

Weir’s view was that being part of the football team was not simply a September to November project. The school’s offseason period was equally important to develop strong players and a strong team. Adding an offseason helped groom conditioned players and teammates.

“During the summer, we would work out together,” Weir said. “Speed training combined with weight training for three days a week and alternative training twice a week. We were doing training that was a decade before what became known today as CrossFit and core training.”

With training practices ahead of the curve, the Huron Heights team was creating an advantage. Aside from rigorous training, the sense of commitment was important.

“By joining the football team, we set expectations that the sport had to be the No.1 priority,” Weir said. “Our message to the players was clear. We were going into the season to win league championship. To achieve that, we expected hard-working and dedicated players.”

The team dynamics was also managed by player selection.

“We were looking for players with good character and who were able to work as a team, not just talent,” he said.

Many of his past players have come back to talk with him and share feedback on how the football program helped them develop resilience. Alumni agree that the habits they learned through training, helped prepare them for their professional lives.

Next, Weir introduced the idea of building the Huron Heights Warriors as a community brand. The team increased its visual presence by distributing lawn signs and organizing fundraising campaigns. During games, the Huron Heights Warriors were recognizable by their top-of-the-line uniforms and a giant helmet tunnel. Today, the Huron Heights Warriors are a household name in the Greater Toronto Area football community.

The success of the program has relied on community support. The Warriors Football Booster Club started by Weir in 2009 now raises $20,000-$25,000 a year to support the program. This has provided the team with opportunities to play in the United States three times a year against highly competitive teams.

“The financial support generated through the booster club creates opportunities for youth to play football,” Weir said. “The cost to participate is subsidized and gives everyone a chance to play.”

Compared to Weir’s high school years, football has come a long way. Technology is now a critical element in the game enabling players to study their personal game, in addition to the overall play. For the coaches, the play-by-play is nearly instantaneous and game analytics more accessible.

“As a coach, I can now zoom in to follow a particular play and the next moment track the movements leading up to a missed block or assignment,” Weir said. “Some of our players have learned to create their own game highlights, editing films to add game stats and feature plays.”