There simply weren't any Valley schools that played football. A high school student with dreams of playing university football had no choice but to transfer to one of the Nova Scotia high schools, mostly in Metro Halifax, that played the sport.
That changed in 2007, when Horton and Avon View took the plunge into high school football, followed by Central Kings, Northeast Kings and West Kings, making a total of five Valley schools that now have busy football programs.
As soon as there was high school football available locally, young players could better focus on someday being able to play university football, either at Acadia or elsewhere.
A handful of local players have made the Acadia roster over the past 10 years or so, but Adam, who first joined the Axemen in 2013 and is now playing his fifth season, has arguably had the greatest impact, twice being named to all-conference teams and once earning a second-team all-Canadian berth.
As an illustration of how far football has come locally, there are no fewer than four Kings County natives, all Horton graduates, on the 2017 football Axemen roster.
Adam Melanson is in his fifth year, Cameron Davidson is in his fourth, and Adam’s younger brother Isaac Melanson and Brandon Whitman are both in their first year at Acadia.
“I was in Grade 8 when Horton first got a football team,” Adam, now 23, recalled. “I was worried I might have to go to the city to play. I was really excited to be able to play high school football here.”
Acadia's Raymond Field, where Adam has played his home games the past four seasons, also serves as Horton's home field.
“I've played a lot of games on this field over the years,” he said.
After graduation, Adam spent a year at Champlain College in Quebec before transferring to Acadia prior to the 2013 season. He has been a starter on the Axemen defensive line pretty much ever since, and has now “settled in” at the nose tackle position.
“It's nice to see that Horton, a D-2 school, has been able to stay competitive at football at such a high level,” he said.
When Cam Davidson graduated from Horton in 2014, he planned to attend college in Victoriaville, Quebec as a springboard to what he hoped would be an eventual career in CIS football.
Unfortunately, he ran into an admissions problem in Victoriaville. Before training camp was over, he was on the phone to Axemen head coach Jeff Cummins, who approved his transfer to Acadia.
“I kind of 'fell backward' into Acadia, but in hindsight, it's the best decision I could have made,” said Davidson, now 21. “I've had some opportunities to start, I've been very involved with special teams, and I've gotten some reps at running back. I'm trying to be an all-star in whatever role I'm given.”
Davidson also has fond memories of his high school football career.
“It's kind of incredible how far the local programs have come. We were all part of making Horton into what it is today – one of the best high school football programs in the province,” he said.
“It meant a lot to me to be part of the teams there. I got to play in a provincial final and a provincial semifinal at Horton.”
With four Horton grads at Acadia already, Davidson said he wouldn't be surprised if there were more to join the roster as time goes on.
Brothers on the bench
When Isaac Melanson, the third of four football-playing Melanson brothers, graduated from Horton in 2016, he was recruited to the University of Guelph in Ontario. After a freshman season in which he “got to dress, but didn't get to play,” he made the decision to transfer to Acadia to join his older brother.
A defensive lineman like Adam, but taller and leaner than his brother, Isaac is currently awaiting a decision on his eligibility after his transfer from Guelph. He was hopeful of being able to suit up for the Axemen this season.
Like his teammates, Isaac also has fond memories of his time both with the Valley Bulldogs and with Horton.
“It was definitely a special feeling, playing on a Friday night under the lights here,” he said of Raymond Field. “The experience we gained helped us become better university players.”
All three former Griffins acknowledged the “great coaching” they received growing up, both with the Bulldogs and then at Horton.
“It's really exciting to see the growth of football locally and those great coaches have had a lot to do with that,” Adam said.
And all three enjoy giving back to the sport whenever they can, through coaching and helping with camps.
“It was such a big part of our growth and development, having the Acadia players come to our camps,” Adam said. “Now we get to do the same. It's not an oddity at all anymore for a football player from the Valley to get to play university ball.”
On the field
In their regular season opener, the Axemen took it on the chin in a lopsided loss at Mount Allison.
“There's only one way for us to go now, and that's up,” Davidson said Aug. 28. “There are some positives we can draw from. We definitely have the personnel to be a competitive team, and our outlook is good. We just have to take it one game at a time.”
And the Axemen have been going up, with two wins to their credit.
Unlike Adam and Cam, who are veteran Axemen now, 2017 is “a new start” for Isaac.
“I'm looking to do my part on special teams, and help Adam out on long snapping,” Isaac said.
Isaac knows his time to contribute to a greater degree is coming.
“Right now, we have a really strong and experienced D-line, with seniors right across the board,” he said. “It's definitely like a dream to come back here and play. You don't realize how great it really is until you're where we are now.”
Davidson is already planning to play a fifth year next fall, and will then graduate with his kinesiology degree in the spring of 2019.
“My goals (this season) are to do whatever I can to help the team win – do my part on special teams, and when I get touches on offense, to make the best of it,” he said.
Adam, who graduated this past spring with a B.A. in sociology, is currently in the first year of a two-year Education degree. This is his final year of university sport eligibility.
“I'm interested in playing more football when I'm done here if I get the chance, and I'm also interested in getting into coaching. I've always liked the idea of passing on what I've learned to others, either as a teacher or a coach.”
As part of his course load, Davidson is currently doing an internship with Acadia strength and conditioning coordinator Elliott Richardson, working with high school and middle school kids who come to Acadia to train. He said he might like to eventually continue in that field.
Isaac is also studying toward a B.A. in sociology. He is just getting started on his degree, but likes the idea of “doing some kind of social work, or working with youth like both my parents have.”
“I'll get four years here. I'm hoping to play a whole lot of football before I'm done.”