Panther in awe of Rogers Centre

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:48 AM ET

From the moment he arrived at Rogers Centre, Marco Isakov knew he was in a place he'd one day like to call his football home.

The building had the feel of a big-time venue, a dramatic change from the muddy surfaces and unlined playing conditions that normally greet high school kids.

But for one day, kids like Isakov felt like pros on one of football's biggest backdrops.

"You walk down that tunnel and you can't help but picture yourself playing here," Isakov said after his Lawrence Park Panthers were defeated 16-8 by the Northern Red Knights in a very compelling and competitive senior matchup.

"You're left in awe. It just felt so great."

The senior Panthers arrived with their junior brethren at 9 a.m., 31/2 hours before their scheduled kickoff.

"All you had to do was walk down the stairs and you could quickly see how different this place is," Panthers receiver Jeff Dell said. "It was weird because this place is so big and the field is so nice. You look up and there are no clouds."

In ways only the kids can understand, most felt like they were on Cloud 9 having experienced a day that will last a lifetime, a rare moment that was provided by the community conscious Argos.

The day began with Northern's junior team defeating L.P. 21-9 in a game that was much closer.

The senior Panthers won last year's Tier II title by knocking off Newtonbrook on a snow-covered field at Esther Shiner Stadium.

Isakov and Dell form one of the best pass-and-catch tandems in high school with Isakov emerging as one of the elite quarterbacks at this level.

The move to Tier I has been a challenge, but the Panthers have shown an ability to compete, despite their 0-3 record.

"We could easily be 2-1," Isakov said. "At first we were nervous playing Tier I, but we realized it's still football. The players are a little bigger and quicker, but we're there."

Isakov, Dell, Nick Vitiello, Andrew Majury, Jason Dong, Calvin Young, Colin Phillips, Michael Lusis and George Grant are the only holdovers from last season.

The Panthers lost starting centre Allen Lau after he broke a hand in Week 2. He played yesterday with a cast.

With high school football nearing the end of the regular season, the focus will soon shift to the post-season and the countdown to the Dec. 7 Metro Bowl at Rogers Centre.

The Argos have become a major player in providing exposure and expertise for the day-long football-fest.

At the centre of the team's initiative is Rob Cowan, who once coached at Lawrence Park.

"He does it for the kids," Northern junior coach Brian Gaw said. "You can see how awe-inspiring it is for the kids."


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