Jr. Mustangs attempt to win football title for ‘Coach KJ’

Jay (KJ) Kenemy had two big goals in mind for the Ontario Summer Football League this season.

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Jay (KJ) Kenemy had two big goals in mind for the Ontario Summer Football League this season.

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He wanted the newly formed circuit to hold its inaugural championship weekend in London and aimed to build a college Jr. Mustangs team to win it.

The beloved coach and ‘heart and soul’ of the city’s elite Pigskin Miners Rep organization died last month, but the roster he assembled has won some nail biters to book a spot in the college title tilt against rival Essex Ravens on Sunday, 7 p.m. at Western Alumni Stadium.

“We have stickers on our helmets to remind us of Coach KJ and we talk about him often,” said Jr. Mustangs interim head coach Greg Willson, a former Western Mustang offensive lineman.

“We know how proud he would be of this team who were able to overcome this type of adversity, win two very close games in a row and get into this league game.”

It’s fitting that the opponent is Essex, the only other undefeated team in the OSFL’s U19 AAA division. The week Kenemy died, London was scheduled to face the Ravens next and Willson initially wanted to play the game to honor his friend.

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“That’s what he would have wanted, but when we met as a team, it became pretty clear emotionally that we weren’t going to bounce back in two days from this,” Willson said. “A lot of our players at the college and junior level have been coached by Jay for most of their lives. We have players aged 17 to 19 who started with him at the age of six or seven. He was very good at maintaining close relationships with these children and it was a huge loss for them.

So Willson, a Windsor-area native and former Raven, called his former college coach Glen Mills to figure out what to do next. The pleasant Essex president and university boss said whatever the London organization decided was fine with them.

“The rules state that if there was no contest, both teams could take a tie, and in our scenario it had no impact on either team,” said Willson. “So we didn’t play the game, both teams went undefeated and we stayed 1-2 as the playoff seed.”

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At junior college, London coach Matt Snyder opted for a forfeit loss. The new Beefeaters skipper didn’t think it was fair for Essex to drop a point as there was a chance they would be impacted by it in the standings.

Everything worked. Both teams have won their semi-final matches and will meet on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

Willson, a local attorney, started helping out the Jr. Mustangs when his playing days in the West ended in 2012. He comes from a prominent LaSalle football family — his brother Luke, a retired catcher of the NFL, won the Super Bowl in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks.

He started this summer as offensive head coach, helping Kenemy and offensive coordinator Jake Kirk oversee the offense.

“Jay has worked hard to build a really good coaching staff around him,” Willson said. “My goal was to keep things as status quo as possible. KJ was doing everything right and there was no reason to rock the boat.

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“I told the players that I won’t be able to fill KJ’s shoes. He was a very special person who was deeply rooted in this football community. He was a very spiritual man and he would watch over the team and be proud of this one. He wouldn’t want us to give up the season. He would want us to play even harder for him and that’s what we did.

The Jr. Mustangs are one of the top programs in the province annually. They’ve already won the U12 title this year, so that’s not going to change any time soon.

Sunday’s U17 and U19 games will be a taste of the future stars of Ontario college football. There are at least 15 of the Jr. Mustangs alone heading off to post-secondary school with many of them already committed to the West.

“We’ve got a really strong team and a lot of talent that you’ll see over the next few years,” Willson said. “Our defense is very solid and we rely on it. But we did pretty well on offense. We’re a race-focused team like the college Mustangs and we’re using that to open up our run-pass options and some in-game action too.

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The chance to play at home, as Kenemy had planned, is not lost on the team.

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“It’s a huge deal,” Willson said. “These kids have missed a lot of opportunities over the past two years by not playing high school or summer football (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). They missed either their entire junior college career or half junior and half senior. The children were very motivated to go out and play, and being home is a special experience.

It would make the win for Kenemy even more meaningful.

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ONTARIO SUMMER FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Championship Weekend at Western Alumni Stadium

Friday: U17 (consolation): Waterloo vs Forest City Thunderbirds, 5.30 p.m.; U19 (consolation): Chatham v. Guelph, 8 p.m.

Saturday: U15 AA: Forest City Thunderbirds vs. Guelph, 9 a.m.; U17 (consolation): Brantford v. Hamilton, 11:30 a.m.; U17 AA: Vaughan v. Sudbury, 2 p.m.; U19 (consolation): Cornwall v. Hamilton, 4:30 p.m.; U19 AA: Huronia v. Sarnia, 7 p.m.

Sunday: U15 (consolation): Waterloo v. Chatham, 9 a.m.; U15 (consolation): Hamilton v. Brantford, 11:30 a.m.; U15 AAA: Ottawa v. Burlington, 2 p.m.; U17 AAA: Essex vs. London Jr. Mustangs, 4:30 p.m.; U19 AAA: Essex vs. London Jr. Mustangs, 7 p.m.

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