Cochrane Cobras coaches Rob McNab and Tom Knitter have been recognized as two of Football Alberta's heroes of 2020.
The governing body of Alberta amateur football did away with its annual coaches and officials awards and instead sought nominations for awards of merit for those who went above and beyond in a very trying 2020.
In a news release, Football Alberta executive director Tim Enger explains the 16 individuals and three co-winners recognized represent football's best and brightest who helped keep the lights on in our darkest of years.
The coaches and the entire Cochrane Cobras organization overcame many hurdles and were able to create a memorable season, despite the lack of league play and championships.
The gratitude for their efforts resulted in the nomination by some parents of football players.
The pair appreciate the recognition but neither of them was about to take all the credit. They said it's due to everyone involved in maintaining the strong football culture at the school, from the players to their many fellow coaches, and supportive parents playing numerous roles.
This is the first time Knitter, who is assistant defensive coordinator to Ken Polson, has been recognized by Football Alberta.
"Coach McNab does a tremendous job with our guys, and I work hard with our guys, but there are so many other individuals that contribute to the success of our program. It really is a reflection of a group effort by all of the individuals of our program that make it such a competitive group of guys."
He says he's a proud member of the program and salutes the contributions of everyone involved.
Knitter's football roots are in Cochrane. He started in atoms with the Cochrane Lions, played for the Cochrane Cobras, was a defensive back with the U of C Dinos from 2011-2013 seasons, and played in the 2013 Vanier Cup.
Rob McNab is the co-head coach in charge of the offense and has been a leader on the Cobras coaching staff for 30 years. He brought with him his vast football experience from his time as a quarterback for the Dino and as part of the coaching staff of the Calgary Colts. He has earned far too many honours and records to mention here.
Time and time again, McNab has said it's all about giving the kids the opportunity to play the sport. It's not only about enhancing skills, it's about allowing them to grow as a person to prepare for life after high school.
The bottom line remained the same when it came to making sure the program continued in the fall.
"The award is nice, the recognition is nice, but I did it for the kids. That's why I do it."
He says it was important to keep the school's football culture healthy for when there is a return to league play. The culture created at Cochrane High has set numerous Alberta high school football records, including most consecutive wins and consecutive provincial championships.
"In order to keep the culture moving, we needed our grade 12s to buy in, we needed to go to practice, we needed normalcy so that these younger players, when it's their turn, understand the culture and they understand what the Cobra football program is all about."
He says Football Alberta did an outstanding job in recognizing football programs across the province that shared a similar philosophy.
Knitter says to make sure football skills continued to develop, the coaches put more emphasis on filming practices, then broke down the plays with players.
"It was a transition that was relatively smooth for us," says Knitter. "It was a great way to give players individual feedback as well as coach in a different manner. Coaching through film and coaching through the technology available helped us deal with the socially-distancing problem that you have with sports."
To finish the season, a red and white scrimmage gave the players, coaches, and fans a chance to see the end result of a season of practice.
"You never know what you're going to have with a football team, but I think our big takeaway after the red and white scrimmage was that we'd be a competitive football team, and still had our core players and program core in place," says Knitter. "We were very happy with what we accomplished on the field, and we're excited to get back out there when given the opportunity."
McNab says that scrimmage was a great way to end the season.
"I had so much fun up there doing that red and white game. Everybody got lots of playing time, everybody touched the ball, everybody made a tackle, the parents were pleased... it culminated this terrible situation we're in right now with everybody walking away with smiles on their face."
While the Alberta Schools' Athletics Association has given the OK for spring football, there are many others who would have to agree before it proceeds.
Should that occur, both are raring to return to the field.