In the old schoolyard game, the biggest and the strongest gets to the top of the mountain. A few others may get a hand hold, but most of the players end up clamouring around the base, struggling to get anywhere.
That’s what it will be like this year in the Ontario University Athletics football league.
The defending Yates Cup champion Western Mustangs are still the kings of the heap, and the big snowbank is really slick this year. The ones struggling for a grip won’t find it easy to challenge, and they may end up just getting in each other’s way.
Two teams that thought they had aspirations to the top a year ago don’t appear to be any better; indeed the Guelph Gryphons and Queen’s Golden Gaels have probably slipped.
The McMaster Marauders may be better, but they’re not the team they were two and three years ago. The Laurier Golden Hawks will be better than they were in 2013 but it’s a long way back from 1-7; the Toronto Blues and Windsor Lancers will be perhaps about as good.
The rest of the teams will get stepped on at the bottom of the hill, as those six squads struggle to establish playoff positions somewhere on the steep slope that will lead some poor saps to another Yates Cup game in London this November.
The Mustangs lost some elite players, particularly three all-Canadians on defence, but they recruited well and who knows who’s been stockpiled in Western’s larder of reserves? It’s probably safe to say it’s unlikely there will be much of a drop in the level of play. Quarterback Will Finch set league records for passing yards and touchdowns in just his second intercollegiate year and with four returning all-star linemen, two superb backs and two all-Canadian receivers also returning, it’s just as unlikely there will be much decline in offensive production.
The staggering loss of 25 players at Queen’s will render the Gaels a long shot to repeat their 7-1 season of a year ago. The Gaels lost a lot, everywhere—offence, defence; quality, depth, coaching staff—leaving question marks littering the field like hotdog wrappers on a windy day:
- Jesse Andrews may be the best back in the province, but how far will he fare behind an all-new offensive line?
- Derek Wiggan and Yann Dika-Balotoken are among the premier defensive players in the land, but without John Miniaci and Cory Dyer beside him, will opponents be able to double- and triple-team Wiggan into submission? Without T.J. Chase-Dunawa and Andrew Lue roaming the backfield, will opponents just avoid throwing the ball in Dika-Balotoken’s area?
- Billy McPhee is a capable quarterback. Will the acumen of a fifth-year man lead the youngsters surrounding him, or it will be wasted on their lack of experience. Oh, yeah. Who plays if he gets hurt? One of the three guys who backed him up in the exhibition against Concordia, who were a collective 3-for-9 with three interceptions? That chunk of snow the Gaels were clinging to near the middle of the mountain will break loose quickly if McPhee ever goes down.
- Can any team survive the loss of four starting linebackers?
- Will the loss of respected defensive co-ordinator Pat Tracey to the CFL hurt the Gaels, or will new man Greg Marshall make people forget that even with Tracey, Queen’s allowed 30 points or more in seven of its last 10 playoff games (including three they won in 2009)?
If the replacements do as well as the Gaels believe they can, Queen’s will again be strong but no realist will put genuine championship aspirations in this team’s immediate future.
At Guelph, where the darlings of 2012 won hearts with their storybook finishes and the fact they reached the league final without a single first-team all-star, the Gryphons took a step back last year, bowing in the semifinals to a Queen’s team they defeated twice in 2012. The Gryphons also have the league’s most difficult schedule this year, without an opportunity to play either Waterloo or York.
(That reminds me: when do you suppose the “randomness” of the schedule draw will result in a year when Laurier doesn’t play Waterloo, Toronto doesn’t play York or Ottawa doesn’t play Carleton? Just wondering.)
Back to the Gryphons. Perhaps their appearance in the Yates Cup game two years ago was premature, one of those magical moments where good fortune and heart trump logic, and unsuspecting opponents slow to take you seriously allow you to over-achieve. Perhaps 2014 was always supposed to be the year when this group was meant to peak. Or perhaps 2012 was as good as it was going to get.
McMaster should be good, but not the Kyle Quinlan good of 2011-12. There were some significant personnel losses and it’s not clear whether there’s a supporting cast ready to step up. The Marauders did close last season strong and they’ll probably be semifinalists again this year but going beyond that depends on whether they can extend the growth curve that arose in the second half last year.
Laurier will be better, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Sure, the Hawks lost twice in overtime to playoff-bound teams last year and they gave Western the best game of any Ontario opponent, but they still lost to York. Young quarterback James Fracas showed in the second half of the season he can play and if he has the competitive fire of his grandfather, Hall of Famer Gino Fracas, the Hawks will be tough to beat.
Toronto? One of these days the Varsity Blues will bite some unsuspecting team in the ass and regain their dignity, but they first have to prove they can survive the loss of two all-star receivers. This may be one of those one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of years.
Windsor is a bit of a wild card because if Austin Kennedy has the kind of year people have predicted since his freshman campaign, they will be a playoff team again. If he excels, the Lancers will be formidable; if he plays no better than he has, the Lancers will smoke the bad teams, his supporting cast will get exposed by the good ones, and if they make the playoffs it will only be to travel somewhere and get beaten in the first round.
The losses in the offensive backfield at Ottawa are significant, not the least of which is quarterback Aaron Colbon. Despite having one of the softest schedule in the league—second only to Waterloo, they miss Western and Laurier, and they play all the softies, or, should we say this year, all the other softies—the Gee-Gees will be expecting a lot from his replacement. Derek Wendel, last year’s backup, did complete 59 per cent of his passes, he threw just two interceptions among his 49 attempts and he won his only start, a 297-yard, four-TD performance at York, but he’ll have to replicate those numbers without an all-star running back and two elite receivers.
Waterloo, Carleton and York? We’re sorry. Maybe not as sorry as these teams will be, but it is a shame they simply won’t compete this year. At least Carleton has the crutch that this will be only its second year back in the league on which to lean but the other two continue to struggle mightily to attract top talent. Will we look back in two months and see Carleton’s 53-11 preseason win over York as an indication of how far the Ravens have progressed, or how low the Lions have sunk?
Again, we’ll see.
As a learned coach once said: That’s why we play the games.
Here’s a look at the 11 football teams in Ontario University Athletics, as they prepare to open the season Monday:
Coach: Steve Sumarah (2nd year, 8th year in CIS)
Last year: 0-8, 11th place, did not make the playoffs
Key returnees: Rec Kyle Van Wynsberghe had 37 receptions in 2013 (26 per cent of the team’s catches); LB Leon Cenerini led the nation in tackles last year; QB Jesse Mills, OL Kwabena Asare, OL Eric Fowler, DL Stefan Carty, DL Zach Annen, DB Tunde Adeleke
Key losses: None, apparently, since all 24 starters are returning.
Recruits to watch: RB Raishaun Provo (Pickering St. Mary) and LB Trevelle Wisdom (Toronto Downsview) were members of the Canadian team at the International Bowl series in Texas in February; OL Ryan MacPherson (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.); DB Kadeem Vaillancourt, a former Ottawa Sooners junior, transfers from Laval to join his brother, freshman Rec Dimitri Vaillancourt.
Local content: OL Jason McGinn (Holy Cross), OL Nolan McGreer (Frontenac), OL Matt Lapointe (ex-Queen’s), WR Joey MacDonald (Holy Cross)
They don’t play: Western, York
Last championship: 1985 (Dunsmore Cup)
Synopsis: The lowest-scoring team in Canada as they returned to intercollegiate football for the first time in 15 years, the Ravens return all their 2013 starters but that’s only a good thing if those young players improved as they took their initiative lumps. Though they didn’t win, the Ravens hung tough with several opponents in their maiden campaign, but the hard part comes now, as they seek to avoid getting comfortable as loveable losers. If a 53-11 preseason win over York means anything, it appears they’re about to assert themselves.
Coach: Stu Lang (fifth year)
Last year: 7-1, third place, lost semifinal 34-17 at Queen’s
Key returnees: RB Rob Farquharson, third-leading rusher in Canada in 2012, missed half the season last year to a hamstring injury; RB Johnny Augustine had two 100-yard games in the four he started in Farquharson’s place; QB Jazz Lindsey; Rec Alex Charette played in the East-West Bowl; 2012 OUA all-star LB John Rush returns after missing six games last year to a knee injury; two-time conference all-star DE Cam Walker; all-star LB Andrew Graham; DB Tristan Doughlin.
Key losses: All-star G Cameron Thorn (first team) and T Jakob Piotrowski (second team) from the offensive line, second-team all-star DB Taylor Palmer, who tied for the CIS lead with five interceptions
Recruits to watch: WR Khaleil James (Windsor Catholic Central), DB Nick Parisotta (Guelph Lady of Lourdes) and DB Royce Metchie (Brampton St. Edmund Campion) were members of the Canada’s silver medal-winning team at the world junior championship in Kuwait.
Local content: LB Jacob Harpell (Holy Cross), RB Rob Carnegie (Frontenac), OL Arran MacRae (Frontenac via Kent School in Kent, Ct.)
They don’t play: Waterloo, York
Last championship: 1996 (Yates Cup)
Synopsis: All but two players return from a defence that was tops in the conference in fewest yards allowed (332 per game) and fewest points allowed (17 per game) and was second with 34 quarterback sacks. Though the Gryphons have won more regular-season games in the last two years than anyone else in the conference, they took a step backwards last year, failing to survive the semifinals after reaching the Yates Cup game in 2012. We’re still waiting for QB Jazz Lindsey (sixth in the OUA in passing yards a year ago, 11th in completion percentage) to show he’s a championship-calibre quarterback. The Guelph schedule is the toughest in the conference, as the Gryphons miss the two worst teams and play all the contenders.
Coach: Stefan Ptaszek (ninth year)
Last year: 5-3, fourth place, lost semifinal 32-3 to Western
Key returnees: QB Marshall Ferguson was sixth in the nation with 2,410 yards passing and he threw for a school record 21 touchdowns; WR Danny Vandervoort was the Gorman Trophy winner as national rookie of the year; T Sean Smith played in the East-West Bowl; WR Josh Vanderweerd caught 47 balls in 2013; 2012 all-Canadian CB Joey Cupido; conference all-star DB Steven Ventresca; second-team conference all-star LB Nick Shortill; K Tyler Crapigna was third in the league in scoring.
Key losses: Rec Michael DiCroce led the nation in receiving yards in 2011 and was MVP that year, he caught 40 balls last year after missing all of 2012 with an injury; T Matt Sewell (Toronto) and all-star S Michael Daly (Hamilton) are in the CFL, second-team all-star LB Aram Eisho.
Recruits to watch: SB Esale Mboko (St. Thomas St. Joseph’s), T Dan Younan (Windsor Holy Names), WR Dan Petermann (Hamilton Cardinal Newman), LB Santino Gallo (Hamilton St. Thomas More), DT Andrew Ziebart (Oakville Iroquois Ridge), DB Steve McNicholl (Hamilton St. Jean de Brebeuf)
Local content: Ferguson, WR Ben O’Connor, Rec Mitch O’Connor (who starts the season with a hand injury)
They don’t play: Toronto, Windsor
Last championship: 2012 (Yates Cup)
Synopsis: There are some significant losses but nothing compared to the turnover that preceded the 2013 season. After losing two of its first three games, McMaster ended the year by winning four of its last five and defeated Ottawa handily in the quarter-finals, suggesting the replacements — Ferguson among them — adapted well to playing at the intercollegiate level. How much that growth, stunted by a semifinal defeat at Western, will continue this year will determine where the Marauders will finish and if confidence is a factor, the calendar has York, Waterloo and Carleton as three of the first four opponents. They could be on a roll by the time they host Queen’s in Week 5.
Coach: Jamie Barresi (second year)
Last year: 5-3, fifth place, lost 41-7 to McMaster in quarter-finals
Key returnees: Rec Ian Stewart had two 100-yard games last year; SB Nic Dagher caught 39 balls for 657 yards; DT Ettore Latanzio, the conference’s lineman of the year and a first-team all-Canadian, led the nation with 10 quarterback sacks; LB Nick Lecour and DL Andrew Randall return after missing all of last year with injuries; DB Dustin Wilson played in the East-West Bowl.
Key losses: QB Aaron Colbon was fourth in the nation in passing yards; RB Brendan Gillanders, fourth in the conference in rushing, is in the CFL (Toronto); Rec Andrew Mullings (41 catches last year) was seventh in the conference in receiving yards; Rec Simon LeMarquand (110 catches the last three years); second-team OUA all-star DB Matt Bond-Lapointe.
Recruits to watch: LB Tanner Care transfers from Bishop’s; RB Jackson Bennett (Ottawa), RB Greg Cherniak (London), RB Bryce Vierra (St. Anne-de-Bellevue, Que.), DB James Flemming (Belleville), DL Osas Obas (Montreal).
Local content: Freshmen LB David Hron, Rec Harris McEachern, DL Nick Zanet and DB Tyler Ling (Regiopolis Notre Dame), DL Matt Amey (Napanee), DL Jacob Pardy (Gananoque), DL Joel Ferland and DL Tony Van Hooser (Frontenac); second-year K Lewis Ward (Bayridge), Rec Ben Fisher (Sydenham)
They don’t play: Western, Laurier
Last championship: 2006 (Yates Cup)
Synopsis: Ottawa’s winning record doesn’t tell the whole story of 2013. The three losses came to Western, Queen’s and McMaster, in games where the Gee-Gees gave up 170 points, and they allowed 41 more in the quarter-final loss at Mac, which suggests they were little more than the best of a poor-to-mediocre bunch that occupied the bottom two-thirds of the league. They lost their quarterback, two receivers and their second-team all-Canadian running back from the nation’s No. 2 offence (as measured by total yards), so it’s hard to imagine them scoring enough points to support such a weak defence, or, conversely the defence improving to the degree necessary to support an offence being directed by a quarterback in his first year as a starter. The Gee-Gees do benefit from a soft schedule.
Queen’s Golden Gaels
Coach: Pat Sheahan, 15th season (26th in the CIS)
Last year: 7-1, second place, lost Yates Cup final 51-22 at Western
Key returnees: Fifth-year QB Billy McPhee was fourth in the conference in passing yards last year; RB Jesse Andrews averaged a CIS-best 8.6 yards per carry; DB Yann Dika-Balotoken tied for the national lead with five interceptions; all-Canadian DE Derek Wiggan; DB Brendan Morgan played in the East-West Bowl; fifth-year Rec Alex Carroll; K Dillon Wamsley was second in the league in scoring
Key losses: Are you ready for this? Among 25 departed players are RB Ryan Granberg, the school’s all-time leading rusher; all five offensive linemen, including two-time conference all-star G Derek Morris and second-team all-Canadian T Josh Prinsen; five receivers—Giovanni Aprile (Hamilton) and Scott Macdonell (Ottawa) are in the CFL, Aaron Gazendam Justin Chapdelaine and Chris Patrician; DB Matt Webster (Saskatchewan) and all-Canadian CB Andrew Lue (Montreal) are also in the CFL; two-time conference all-star DB T.J. Chase-Dunawa, three-time conference all-star LB Sam Sabourin, second-team OUA all-stars DT John Miniaci and LB Justin Baronaitis
Recruits to watch: QB Nate Hobbs (Mississauga St. Joan of Arc) won a gold medal with the Ontario team at the 2013 Canada Cup; DE Carson O’Sullivan (Pickering St. Mary), DL Palmer Simpson (Sault Ste. Marie Superior Heights); DB Chris Mackey (Whitby Sinclair), DB Justin Bowman (Mississauga Lorne Park); DB Jason Shamatutu (Coqiuitlam, B.C.), LB Nelkas Kwemo (Montreal via Kents Hill School in Maine); LB Michael Moore (Toronto St. Michael’s), Rec Matteo Del Brocco (Leamington)
Local content: DL Luke Ball (Holy Cross), OL Rob Bogle (La Salle), FB Eric Dodwell (Holy Cross), FB Aaron Dowd (La Salle), LB Nick Dowd (La Salle), DL Corey Flude (Holy Cross), OL Brendan Ginn (Holy Cross via Niagara Academy), DB Farhan Imtiaz (Frontenac), DB Matt Pendergast (Holy Cross), DL Jeff Vanderspank (Ernestown)
They don’t play: Laurier, Waterloo
Last championship: 2009 (Vanier Cup)
Synopsis: It’s difficult to imagine any team graduating 18 players who dressed for the Yates Cup game a year ago—and two others who, but for injuries, would have played—could hope for any kind of success in the subsequent campaign. The Gaels are doing just that, banking on the fruits of the last two recruiting classes. Questions abound on a team that could be as good as 6-2 or struggle to finish 3-5. I guess we’ll see.
Coach: Greg Gary (fourth year)
Last year: 4-4, seventh place, did not make the playoffs
Key returnees: QB Simon Nasser passed for 1,549 yards in four games after replacing the injured Chris Jugovic; Rec Llevi Noel had 26 catches for 502 yards as a rookie; fifth-year OL Aaron Wheaton; T Danny Sprukulis was the school’s male rookie athlete of the year; LB Dylan Gordon was 12th in Canada with 39 solo tackles; DB John Connors returns after missing most of 2013 with an injury; all-Canadian return man Kevin Bradfield led the nation and set a school record for punt-return yardage.
Key losses: All-Canadian WR Paul de Pass, second-team conference all-star Rec Alex Pierzchalski, RB Aaron Milton, LB Harrison Beeforth, LB Christopher Johnson, S Kevin Kinahan.
Recruits to watch: RB Divante Smith (Mississauga St. Marcellinus), OL Ryan Searle transfers from Guelph; Rec Rahul Madan transfers from Western, LB Robert Welch (Vancouver College), DL Gurjant Singh (Mississauga St. Joseph), DL Javin Haughton (Brampton St. Roch)
Local content: Aaron Gazendam (Holy Cross) is studying medicine and will audition as punter; fellow ex-Queen’s receiver Boris Isakov is pursuing his Masters in Applied Science; former Kingston Grenadiers FB Dylan Howes (Smiths Falls) and Rec Alex Lockridge (Newburgh)
They don’t play: McMaster, Windsor
Last championship: 1993 (Vanier Cup)
Synopsis: Toronto won its last three games last year, scoring 156 points in the process, in a vain attempt to claim a playoff spot after a 1-4 start, and there are enough bad teams in the league that this could be the year when the post-season drought finally ends. One of these years the Varsity Blues are going to climb the mountain and surprise a good team and when that happens, who knows what will be the boost to the fragile psyche of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1995, and hasn’t won a playoff game in the lifetime of many of the current players.
Coach: Marshall Bingeman (second year)
Last year: 1-7, 10th place, did not make the playoffs
Key returnees: LB Greg Zaltz was fourth in the land with 54.5 tackles in 2013 and he played in the East-West Bowl; QB Jamie Cook; RBs Ryan Di Risio and Danny Silvestri; T Matt Kielo has moved to DE; DB Christian Mahler; LB Brandon Corelli
Key losses: All-Canadian Rec Nick Anapolsky had a CIS-record 74 receptions; OL Matt Vonk, DT Djordje Gavrilovic, DL Matt Tolliver, DB Harrison Mair
Recruits to watch: QB Lucas McConnell (Waterford), RB Richmond Nketiah (Brampton Cardinal Ambrozic), RB Mitch Kernick (Elmira), FB Ben Koczwara (London St. Thomas Aquinas), DB Ethan McDonagh (London Catholic Central), DB Lucas Merlin (Burlington Nelson), DL Matt Macera (Burlington Corpus Christi), DL Cage Maracle (Guelph J.S. Ross)
Local content: Kielo (Frontenac), DB Jeff Kuipers (Frontenac)
They don’t play: Queen’s, Guelph
Last championship: 1999 (Yates Cup)
Synopsis: A team that owed its only win in 2013 to the return of the Carleton Ravens and has won just three of 24 games since its year-long self-imposed drug suspension in 2010 will be hard-pressed to move any higher. Its defence last year allowed 51 points per game—that’s a touchdown every nine minutes, kids—almost 600 yards per game and sacked the quarterback just 10 times all season. It’s difficult to believe Jamie Cook, the 17th ranked QB in Canada last year (by completion percentage), or a rushing attack that averaged fewer yards per game (104.8) than four individual backs will overcome the deficits that kind of defence is likely to continue to provide. Thank goodness for York
Coach: Greg Marshall (eighth season; 15th in the CIS)
Last year: 8-0, first place, lost 44-3 to Calgary in the Mitchell Bowl
Key returnees: QB Will Finch, the OUA’s most valuable player, set conference records for completion percentage (.697) and passing yards (3,047); all-star C Matt Van Praet; RB Garret Sanvido led the nation in rushing in 2012; all-Canadian WR George Johnson led the league with 982 receiving yards from 60 catches; all-Canadian IR Brian Marshall had 753 yards receiving; second-team all-Canadian DL Daryl Waud; Rec-return man Matt Uren; second-team conference all-stars G Joe Circelli, T Eddie Meredith, DL Ricky Osei-Kusi, CB Simon Bahru.
Key losses: OUA all-star K-P Lirim Hajrullahu, good on 22 of 27 field goal attempts and averaged 40.8 yards per punt, is now in the CFL (Winnipeg); fifth-year OL Eric Armitage; all-Canadian LBs Beau Landry and Pawel Kruba; second-team all-Canadian DL Dylan Ainsworth
Recruits to watch: K Zach Medeiros transfers from Montreal and was a Canadian junior all-star in 2012; OL Greg Bouchard (Choucitimi, Que., Vanier College) was a tournament all-star at the Canada Cup; RB Mitchell Smiley (Sarnia Northern) played in the International Bowl in February; DB Mackenzie Ferguson (London Banting) holds the OVFL record with five interceptions in a game; DB Craig Hinschberger (London Mother Teresa) was a tournament all-star at the 2013 Canada Cup and also played in the International Bowl in February; LB Phil N’Djore transfers from Bishop’s; LB Jean-Gabriel Poulin helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2013 world junior championship.
Local content: OL Jeremy O’Neil (Kingston Grenadiers)
They don’t play: Carleton, Ottawa
Last championship: 2013 (Yates Cup)
Synopsis: If any team could survive the loss of such quality personnel as Hajrullahu, Landry, Kruba and Ainsworth it would be Western, a team that doesn’t need to match its all-time OUA record 458 points to be the class of the conference once again. Consider that Finch and Johnson are entering just their third seasons and the only player to graduate from that powerful offence is the only lineman who wasn’t an all-star last year. Even if the defence suffers from its losses to graduation—and that’s not certain, given the incoming talent—it’s likely the Mustangs will score enough to overcome it. Don’t forget, three teams scored 24 points or more against Western last year, but the Mustangs won all those games by three touchdowns or more. The motivation that surely arises from the spanking administered by Calgary in the national semifinal will keep the Purple Ponies from becoming complacent as they kick the butts of every team in the conference.
Prediction: 1st place and the Yates Cup.
Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks
Coach: Michael Faulds (second year)
Last year: 1-7, ninth place, did not make the playoffs
Key returnees: QB James Fracas completed almost 63 per cent of his passes, fifth-best in Canada, in 2013; RB Dillon Campbell led the league with 867 yards rushing and played in the East-West Bowl with DL Ese Mrabure-Ajufo; Rec Greg Nyhof averaged better than 20 yards per catch; Rec Kelvin Muamba led the team with 36 receptions; second-team all-star LB-DB Chris Ackie is in the preseason Top 10 for CFL draft prospects; LB Brandon Calver led the team with 42 tackles as a rookie; return man William Pitt-Doe established a school record for kick-return yards (590) as a freshman last year.
Key losses: Rec Isaac Dell, second-team all-star DB Felix Odum
Recruits to watch: RB Eli Fera (Windsor Catholic Central) set an OVFL record with seven touchdowns in a game this season with the Essex Ravens; OL Jamie Lalonde transfers from Guelph; DL Rashari Henry had 12 sacks with the Orleans Bengals of the National Capital Amateur Football Association; DB Isaiah Gyzylak (Hamilton Sir Allan MacNab) played in Texas this year with Team Ontario; Rec Brendan McCracken (Kitchener Huron Heights)
Local content: Ex-Queen’s player Mark Surya coaches the receivers
They don’t play: Ottawa, Queen’s
Last championship: 2005 (Vanier Cup)
Synopsis: When 1-3 was all the Hawks could show for the weak part of their schedule, James Fracas, grandson of the Hall of Fame Windsor coach, was installed as quarterback and Laurier responded by giving eventual league champion Western its closest game and taking playoff-bound Windsor and Queen’s to overtime. The Hawks would appear to be a team on the rise and, with 22 of 24 starters returning, they’re a threat to unseat Windsor or Ottawa from the post-season, if not challenge to finish higher.
Coach: Joe D’Amore (fourth season)
Last year: 4-4, sixth place, lost 31-21 to Guelph in the quarter-finals
Key returnees: QB Austin Kennedy goes into his fifth year already holding four school passing records; OUA all-star Rec Evan Pszczonak averaged 92 yards receiving per game; RB Nathan O’Hollaran and second-team all-star DL Tai Pham played in the East-West Bowl; OL Randy Beardy, OL Brett Boersma, DL Stephon Miller, fifth-year DB Josh Burns, LB Frank Renaud, DB Austin Crumb, DB Jordan Deneau.
Key losses: DB Akeem Whonder was third in the league in tackles; RB Mitch Dender, OL Nick Corrado, DL Taras Potopilnyj, K Dan Cerino
Recruits to watch: RB Terrance Crawford and LB Joe Iatzko (both from Windsor) transfer from Simon Fraser; OL Devin Desjardins (Windsor Herman) played on a provincial under-19 team in Texas; WR Noah Akharoh (Brampton Notre Dame), OL Lucas Moore (Belle River), LB Rick Van Espen (LaSalle Sandwich), DL Courtney Ellis (Hamilton St. Thomas More), DL Nick Simone (LaSalle Villanova), K Hugh Paulin (Windsor Vincent Massey)
Local content: None
They don’t play: McMaster, Toronto
Last championship: 1975 (Yates Cup)
Synopsis: Kennedy has been touted as a potential Hec Crighton candidate, after being an all-star in his second and third seasons, 2011 and 2012—though notably not last year. Despite his obvious talent, he’s yet to take his team into the second round of playoffs (perhaps because Windsor hasn’t had an all-star offensive lineman since Mike Morencie in 2009). So will he make the most of his last intercollegiate season, or have we already seen the best of him? How that question gets answered will largely determine Windsor’s fate. The Lancers were a .500 team last year in a season when they didn’t play Western and while they beat up the league’s dogs, they were 0-4 against teams ahead of them and they were close only once, giving up 49, 51 and 45 points in the other three defeats. Even an MVP season by Kennedy may not be enough to overcome that kind of defence.
Coach: Warren Craney (fifth season)
Last year: 2-6, eighth place, did not make the playoffs
Key returnees: OL Jordyn Moore has played in every game since arriving at York and played in the East-West Bowl, as did LB Hussein Hazime; WR Jarrett Carson and DL Cole Austen played as freshmen last year; LB Michael Runowski, DB Josh Small, RB Connor Anderson, WR Jarrett Carson, OL Trevor King
Key losses: OUA all-star RB Errol Brooks; DE James Tuck (Montreal) is in the CFL; QB Myles Gibbon, WR William Austin
Recruits to watch: DB Rees Paterson (Sherwood Park, Alta.) was a member of Team World at the 2013 International Bowl and Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the world junior championship in 2012; RB Jon Howard (Burlington M.M. Robinson) played in the 2012 Canada Cup; WR Mahlique Marks (Toronto Don Bosco) played in the 2011 Canada Cup; FB Anthony Mandalfino (Burlington), DE Trey Cordle (Waterloo Resurrection), DE Broderick Martin (North York Chaminade), LB AndrewMasson-Wong (Quebec, College Notre Dame de St-Foy), LB Kobena Toku (Brampton St. Marguerite D’Youville).
Local content: None
They don’t play: Carleton, Guelph
Last championship: York has never won a football championship
Synopsis: Let’s put it this way: Yikes! Their best receiver in 2013, Austin, was 45th in Canada in receiving yards (460); their best back, Brooks, rushed for 701; Gibbon rushed for 531 more. That’s 53 per cent of the team’s total offence from a year ago and not only is it all gone, there appear to be no heirs apparent. The preseason prospectus doesn’t list a quarterback among “key recruits” and the backup last year, Todd Hoover, got into games long enough to throw just 17 passes. The Lions used four different QBs in that 53-11 preseason pasting at the hands of Carleton, apparently none of them to any distinction, so it doesn’t look good. At Waterloo they must have been licking their lips as they circled Oct. 25 on the calendar; the week before that the Lions come to Kingston for Homecoming. Won’t they be a dainty dish to set before the Queen’s faithful?
Former Kingston Cavalier Tim Bergin had a goal and three assists Thursday as the Kahnawake Mohawks defeated the Akwesasne Outlawz 15-8 in the President’s Cup lacrosse tournament in Coquitlam, B.C.
It’s third national senior B championship in a row for Bergin, a member of the Ottawa Axemen who was added to the Quebec Senior Lacrosse League champion Mohawks for the week-long tournament.
The win sends Kahnawake into the final day of the preliminary round with a 4-1 record, one of three teams tied atop the seven-team standings. Kahnawake will play one of those other teams, the St. Albert Miners, Friday. The Mohawks handed the other 4-1 team, the Onondaga Redhawks, their only defeat, 11-10 on Wednesday.
Bergin scored a power-play goal in that game.
Earlier, Bergin scored once in an 8-7 win over the host Tri-City Bandits. His goal, with less than six minutes to go in the game, gave the Mohawks a 7-5 lead. Bergin had a goal and an assist in a 14-10 win over the Nanaimo Timbermen but he was held scoreless in Kahnawake’s only loss, a 9-8 setback Wednesday suffered at the hands of the Six Nations Rivermen.
Six Nations goes into the final day of the round robin with a 2-2 record.
Bergin is the second former Kingston junior to play in a national championship this month. Cole Byvelds, a three-year member of the Kingston Kings who played junior B this summer with the Montreal Shamrocks, was a member of Team Quebec at the Founder’s Cup tournament in Halifax. Quebec was winless in six games. Byveld played in all six, but he was held without a point.
One of a series of stories of conversations with ex-cadets from Royal Military College, as they reflect on their time at the college, their sporting endeavours and what they’ve been up to since graduation.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
As campaigns go, this one got pretty intense, Rob Parent recalls.
“It got very interesting,” Parent said.
“I made myself a huge pain in the ass.”
Not even generals could elude the crusading Parent, who one day struck up a conversation with Rick Hillier, the former chief of defence staff, who he happened upon in the men’s room at National Defence Headquarters. “I was trying to get him to support the rugby team as a leadership-development tool for army officers,” Parent said.
“I had no pride when it came to shilling for the rugby program. No one was safe.”
Parent did not attend Royal Military College as a cadet but he is no less connected to it. He spent four years living on the grounds, while his father taught surveying to civil engineering students there. He had two postings to the college, as a squadron leader and a division leader.
Oh, yeah. He also coached rugby there.
Parent was on a tour in Bosnia a dozen or so years ago when he heard of the program’s demise, and he was dismayed at the news. “Rugby’s a premier team sport, with minimal costs and great benefits,” Parent said. “The fact that I had almost 10 per cent of the institution participating was deemed to be extraneous to the institution and could be let go.
“It was a huge, huge mistake.”
There wasn’t a lot anybody could do from several time zones away, but when he got back to Canada, Parent made it his mission to resurrect the program. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he was determined.
“I objected, not just as a rugby coach, but as an officer and someone who saw the institution letting go a premier leadership-development and warrior-development tool. It was also a wonderful linkage to military communities across the world,” he said.
“When I returned I made it one of my purposes in life to argue as convincingly as I could for bringing back the rugby program.”
Parent was serving with the Brockville Rifles militia unit at the time, and he set about the task with vigor but he quickly realized that no amount of zeal was going to make things happen any more quickly. “You can’t eat the elephant all in one bite,” he said, but months later he managed to get a rugby match scheduled one ex-cadet weekend, current students versus old boys.
“That went off really well,” he said. “There was a lot of moral support from the ex-cadet world. People were finally saying, ‘Why did this happen? Explain to me again why this was a good idea.’ They could not produce a viable reason why the program was decommissioned.”
That proved to be the beginning of the end of rugby’s hiatus.
“The thing about RMC is there’s a lot of reachback, both by ex-cadets that have sons and daughters at the institution, and by senior officers who retain a very strong interest in it,” Parent said, “so this debate began to get traction in senior quarters and I suspect that more and more support was being generated in the wider military community.
“Then we got an opportunity to have a spring camp and I remember we ran an intramural program. That’s when I was pretty satisfied that rugby was going to return.”
Return it did, seven years ago, after a lapse of about four years.
Parent came upon the object of his passion quite by accident. He was casting about for an activity to supplement his fitness for hockey — he was a charter member of the Kingston Canadians, with whom he played four years in what remains, 40 years later, as the salad days of major junior hockey in the city — when he discovered the Kingston Panthers.
“That was my first exposure to serious rugby competition and I loved it,” Parent said. “I was young enough and fit enough, I was running around like a silly bugger. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I was chasing the ball and they were happy with me doing that.”
The city’s club team was a melting pot of local players, intercollegiate players from Queen’s, and English, South African and Australian ex-pats. “It was really interesting,” Parent said. “You’re a 19-year-old young man and you’re meeting all these individuals and integrating with them. It was a special sporting experience. It was a lot of fun but really inspiring—the comradeship, the game itself, that idea of being that one collective spirit on the pitch. It bonds you to the game.”
Hockey was Parent’s first athletic pursuit. After junior, he was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars. The 79th player selected in the draft, he played one year with the Fort Wayne Komets of the International league (whose coach, Gregg Pilling, just happened to be married to the daughter of RMC coaching legend Danny McLeod). “That was great fun but I decided to go back to school.”
Parent wound up in Wilcox, Sask., at Athol Murray College, which at the time was associated with the University of Regina. While there he was a teammate on an intermediate squad that included former Olympic players Barry MacKenzie and Terry O’Malley. Parent himself was among those who auditioned for the 1980 Olympic team, Canada’s first since it began a boycott of world championships ten years earlier.
He put hockey aside to concentrate on his studies and finished his degree at the University of British Columbia. Each summer, he’d return to Kingston and play rugby with the Panthers.
“It was a very natural progression to go from sports into the military,” said Parent, who joined the infantry out of university in 1983 with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. From Calgary to Gagetown to Edmonton to Winnipeg, Parent did a lot of in-battalion work, but it started to become apparent that his role would be in training and instructing.
His first posting to Kingston was to 1 Canadian Division in 1996 and one year later he found himself commanding a squadron at RMC. “It was a lot of fun working with cadets,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but a very rewarding challenge.”
Parent subsequently served his first overseas tour in Cyprus, his second in Bosnia, and then after a year and a half at NDHQ, he transferred to the reserves with the Brockville Rifles, with whom he eventually rose to commanding officer. It was while with the Rifles he served in Afghanistan, training the Afghan National Army at the NATO headquarters in Kabul.
Parent rejoined the regular force, dropped a rank to major, and spent the next four years as division commander at RMC. Then followed a tour with the UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai, which just recently ended.
Throughout his career, Parent continued to be involved in rugby, both in the community and on forces teams, and in battalion hockey, which produced two of his most memorable athletic moments.
“I had the best scrap I’ve ever had with the Vandoos,” he said. “It was a great scrap, a regimental donnybrook. One of the linesmen tried to grab me and that wasn’t a good idea because I deposited him into the net and carried on with the festivities.”
That was at the first army-wide hockey championship at Petawawa. Former RMC star Steve Molaski helped CF Europe to the title, but the next year the Patricias won, defeating an NDHQ team in the final that featured former Paladins goaltender Andy Scott.
Parent scored a goal in that game.
“Not just scored,” Parent corrected. “As you know, in my junior career I was never known as a goal scorer,” reminded the former defenceman, warming to the recollection.
“There was a clearing pass, I knocked it down, beat a guy wide, beat another guy by slipping it between his legs, put Andy on the ground, flopping like a fish out of water, for the winner.
“It’s like God came down and touched me and said, ‘You’ve got the next 10 seconds; you’re Wayne Gretzky—don’t (mess) it up.”
Though he’s not an alumnus, Parent said his first posting to RMC was very much a homecoming. In his youth he’d lived on Rideout Row, the curent location of CDA headquarters. “We were right on the corner. My window overlooked the baseball diamond, the football field and the harbour. For a budding athlete, it was heaven. It was like living in a big park.
“At that time you could go and every Saturday morning you could shoot. The cadets and the staff taught me how to shoot.”
McLeod, at the time the hockey coach and athletics director, lived in Cavalry House. “He had the best Halloween candies going,” Parent said. “Everybody went to Uncle Danny’s.”
People remembered his father, Robert, Jr., recalled.
“There’s a generation of engineers out there that have been traumatized by my father teaching surveying,” he said. “I have a more than superficial resemblance to my father and when I first arrived at a regimental engineering function I popped myself up and people saw my name tag and they saw my face and they went, ‘Arrgh, Boomer’s back! He’s reincarnated! Oh my god!’
“It was flattering. There were a couple who, having had a few beers, maybe wanted to get a little aggressive, but most of them were very complimentary. He was very demanding but he was very fair. If you did the work, you got the rewards. It was as simple as that.”
Though the college was familiar, Parent said going there as squadron commander involved learning a new culture, though he did so with the benefit of understanding the context of the institution.
“For all its warts, RMC has always been physically my home,” he said. “Coming there as a senior captain, being involved in training with infantry officers, it felt very natural.” It just so happened the college was in the market for a rugby coach and Parent was looking for an opportunity to stay involved in the sport.
“There’s no better way to know cadets as individuals and to understand what their lives are about and what they’re going through, than to be a coach on the grounds. There’s such a distance between a commissioned officer and a cadet. Sometimes it’s very difficult to bridge that without getting too informal. A coaching relationship is ideal for bridging that, but still there’s a sense of distance. You’re still sir, you’re still an authority figure, but I don’t have to be so structured.”
Parent now lives in Newburgh, a village northwest of the city, in a limestone home built in 1848, where he awaits his next posting. He’s the father of three: a daughter Ariel, who lives in Vancouver, a son, Robert, “a young corporal doing all the things I love to do, jump out of airplanes and stuff like that” with the Royal Canadian Regiment, and a daughter, Laura, who recently graduated from Queen’s University.
It took a long time for the tall foreheads at Queen’s University to get around to putting a name to the facility, but in the end they wound up exactly where they should be.
Many months after the board of trustees approved it, the university announced Monday the upper turf athletic field at west campus will be named Miklas-McCarney Field. Two more fitting men to celebrate the university would have been hard-pressed to identify, and there’s no more appropriate place to do so than one where, among other things, the football team practises.
That’s because when it came to football, Bill Miklas and Hal McCarney were all about the preparation.
Renowned for his painstaking attention to detail, Miklas coached—no, in his case taught is perhaps the more apt verb—offensive linemen for 30 years. Young men who, in some cases, by virtue of their size or athletic background, wouldn’t have been allowed on the field to audition with other teams, became national champions under Miklas’s guidance. Defeating bigger, stronger, faster opponents was not an obstacle, but a challenge for a man who imparted the technical expertise to enable his athletes to do just that.
Generations of linemen at Queen’s attribute any success they had to Miklas, an unassuming man who would never take any credit for it.
McCarney—Moose to anyone who knew him—coached with the legendary Frank Tindall and even after he retired in 1973 he remained connected with the team, dropping by the stadium to exchange ideas with successive coaches who never failed to learn something from those chats—or be entertained by them. He was also the team’s rainmaker, working hard to foster alumni connectivity to the team, whether it be by marshaling their financial support after graduation, or by catering an annual pasta fest while they were still members of the team.
McCarney’s was the invisible hand that helped to keep the program viable—and successful—at a time when egalitarian thinking reduced football’s share of the athletics budget at Queen’s amid the rising cost of sustaining a competitive program.
Both men personify traits the university often touts but to which it often pays only lip service—loyalty and excellence. When it came to his alma mater, McCarney epitomized the first; Miklas demanded the second not only on the football field, but in the classrooms of the School of Business, where he rose to be associate dean.
McCarney won the Jenkins Trophy as the university’s outstanding graduating athlete in 1951. Miklas won the Gino Fracas Trophy as the nation’s top volunteer assistant coach in 1994.
Miklas died in 2001 at the age of 60; McCarney in 2009 at the age of 81.
In a news release, former proteges of the two men wrote of the impact they had.
“When you’re young, real confidence is in short supply and hard to acquire. It is also badly needed, as you move from organized education to messy life,” wrote Charlie Galunic, a lineman who played at Queen’s from 1984-87. Galunic won the first Russ Jackson Award for academics, athletic achievement and citizenship and was later a Rhodes Scholar.
“Bill Miklas understood this. He knew that of all the things that he would teach us on the (field)—including how to slyly hold a defender without drawing the notice of the referee—the goal was not a particular football skill but a life skill, a sense of self that would translate into precious confidence.”
Peter Thompson, who played for the Gaels 1959-64, wrote that naming an athletics field at Queen’s in honour of McCarney is “most appropriate.”
“Competition was his life blood and teaching young men the attributes for succeeding in such endeavours was his forte. Hal’s unparalleled exuberance and passion for Queen’s was infectious. He taught and inspired those he coached to recognize that confidence is the key to success and that feeling confident is the product of perseverance, prior investigation of your adversary, innovative planning and thorough preparation.”
Miklas-McCarney Field will be dedicated this fall, at a ceremony yet to be scheduled but one that will no doubt will be part of Homecoming weekend, Oct. 17-19.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Does the outcome of an exhibition football game matter?
It didn’t even matter that much to the guy whose team won Sunday afternoon.
“To be honest with you, our goal wasn’t to come in and win,” Concordia Stingers coach Mickey Donovan said after his team defeated the Queen’s Golden Gaels 25-18 at Richardson Stadium.
“Our goal was to come in and execute, work hard, play tough and not give up,” he said. “The whole preseason we were talking about finishing—finishing the play, doing the job, and that’s what we did today.”
He could have added ‘be opportunistic’ to the things his team achieved in Sunday’s game, contested on a hot, humid day under a brilliantly sunny sky.
That’s because most of his team’s points could be traced to Queen’s turnovers: interceptions returned for touchdowns by Michael Asare and Kris Robertson and a fumble recovery that led to a field goal.
A Queen’s defence that dressed eight rookie linemen in its first game under new defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall hardly needed to be spectacular against a team that was 0-8 last year, but it performed capably and it looked promising for the time when Derek Wiggan, Luke Ball and Corey Flude, none of whom played Sunday, return.
At no time did the Queen’s defence perform better than it did early in the fourth quarter, when the Stingers, trailing 15-10, had the ball at the Queen’s one-yard line, with first down. The Gaels denied first running back Gunner Tatum and then quarterback Colin Sequeira, before Sequeira finally put the ball into the end zone on third down.
Such promise renders the outcome moot from the Queen’s point of view, as well.
“We allowed 11 points, and that’s pretty good for Game 1,” said veteran lineman Derek Wiggan. “We have a really talented rookie group at D line. I had no doubt they’d play well. No doubt.”
Wiggan spoke of how well the rookies adapted to the speed and physicality of the play. Even the ones who have been with the team for a year or two may not have been in a competitive game since high school. Indeed, five of the rookie linemen were playing in their first intercollegiate game.
“Going from high school to university it’s a different beast, and they were able to compete out there,” Wiggan said. “Some of these guys have been in maybe a couple of plays the last couple of years and they had to step in.
“This is going to help them down the road. They’ve had their first taste of it. Hopefully injuries don’t hurt us later on in the year but (if they do) now they’ve got some experience.”
Nick Dowd, the La Salle Secondary School grad beginning his second year with the club, started one game last year at linebacker.
“It didn’t really compare to this,” he said. “I had a bunch of all-stars on the D line in front of me so I wasn’t making plays like I was today. If you don’t have John Miniaci and Cory Dyer lining up in front of you it changes the aspect of the game a little bit.”
To compensate, Dowd said he decided just to play the game.
“It was almost like a high school game,” he said, “do anything you could to get your hands on the ball carrier and get in the passing lanes.
“Coach Marshall is doing a good job. Everybody’s on the same page because he kept it simple this fall. There’s no mind games going on in the defensive playbook. That’s nice. It’s good for the rookies, even the vets, too. Keeping it simple helps you play, because when you’re thinking, you’re not playing.”
Dowd found himself playing defensive end Monday, and evidently so impressed his coach he might have found himself a new home.
“As long as it gets me on the field, I’m happy with that,” Dowd said. “It’s a simple task, compared to linebacker. You don’t have to do the cover job on the running backs and receivers, but you have the quarterback to contain, which is tough against a quarterback who can run like that.”
That quarterback was the No. 3 Stingers pivot, Mario Porreca. He came into the game in the third quarter and ended it with 71 yards rushing, one of the bright spots for Donovan, who was making his head-coaching debut.
“The great thing for today is our guys got to play against a great team … and we were able to take some good things from this,” he said.
“There were a couple of times where we fumbled the ball and the defence came back out and didn’t get down. This team, maybe back in the day, would have gotten down on each other but they’re sticking together and we’re working through all the bumps.”
In a game that was played about as well as you’d expect of two teams that have had barely a week of practice—the teams combined to turn the ball over eight times, and there were 24 penalties—Dillon Wamsley’s 26-yard field goal was the only scoring play of the first quarter.
Asare’s 20-yard return of Nate Hobbs’s first intercollegiate pass gave the visitors a 7-3 lead late in the second quarter and after the Stingers conceded a safety the score was 7-5 at halftime.
Queen’s regained the lead when Billy McPhee and Peter Hannon connected for a 17-yard touchdown pass in the seventh minute of the third quarter, after which Keegan Treloar, from 22 yards, and Wamsley, from 35 yards, traded field goals.
The Gaels led 15-10 when Sequeira scored on third-and-goal, and three plays later Max Townsend threw an interception that Robertson took 42 yards for another touchdown. A single on the subsequent kickoff gave the Stingers 15 points in just 70 seconds and a lead that proved to be insurmountable.
Wamsley’s third field goal of the game, this one from 14 yards, brought the Gaels to within seven points of Concordia but though Queen’s mounted a splendid drive in the final minute and a bit—marching 94 yards from its own eight-yard line to the Concordia eight in seven plays—the Gaels couldn’t get the tying score. McPhee’s pass to Alex Carroll at the back of the end zone was batted away at the last second by Kevin Prempeh to preserve the Stingers’ win.
Jesse Andrews’ 99 yards rushing was the biggest single element of Queen’s 462 yards of total offence. McPhee completed 15 of 25 attempts for 202 yards. He was sacked three times but he did not throw an interception.
Qns—FG, Wamsley 26l 11:11
Con—TD, Asare 21 interception return (Treloar convert) 10:31
Qns—Safety, Green concedes 13:48
Qns—TD, Hannon 17 pass from McPhee (Wamsley convert) 6:01
Con—FG, Treloar 22 12:17
Qns—FG, Wamsley 35 14:24
Con—TD, Sequeira 1 run (Treloar convert) 5:05
Con—TD, Robertson 42 interception return (Treloar convert) 6:15
Con—Single, Treloar 75 kickoff 6:15
Qns—FG, Wamsley 14 10:34
Concordia 0 7 3 15 — 25
Queen’s 3 2 10 3 — 18
Attendance (Kingston) — 643.
First downs 23 23
Yards rushing 241 202
Yards passing 126 268
Total offence 351 462
Passes made-tried 13-19 18-34
Interceptions by 3 0
Fumbles-fumbles lost 3-3 2-2
Punts-average yards 8-36 7-45
Penalties-total yards 8-66 16-137
NOTE — Total offence equals yards rushing plus yards passing minus team losses such as yards lost on broken plays.
Concordia — Tatum 15 carries for 98 yards, Porreca 6-71, De Rayos 10-50, Dessureault 2-13, Sequeira 4-7, 1 TD; Pinsonneault 1-2, Steele 1-1, Greffen 1-0, Stinson 1-(-1).
Queen’s — Andrews 12-99, Carmichael 1-38, Black 4-25, McPhee 2-24, Geddes 1-24, Hobbs 1-1, Spence 2-(-2), Carroll 1-(-7).
Concordia — Sequeira completed 8 of 11 for 94 yards; Dessureault 4-6, 31 yards; Porreca 1-2, 1 yard.
Queen’s — McPhee 15-25, 202 yards, 1 TD; Hobbs 2-3, 62 yards, 1 interception; Geddes 1-4, 4 yards, 1 interception; Townsend 0-2, 1 interception.
Concordia — Stinson 3 catches for 56 yards, Bailey 1-18, Malkin 1-17, Tatum 2-15, Aubry 3-11, Hebert 1-6, Santana 1-3, Cadet 1-0.
Queen’s — Hannon 6-82, 1 TD; Carroll 2-57, Saddlemyre 1-38, Weir 3-36, Carmichael 2-26, Masawi 1-24, Zulys 1-4, Cho 1-2, Corby 1-(-1).
Concordia — Green 5 for 192 yards, avg. 38.4, longest 48; Treloar 3-93, avg. 31.0, longest 37.
Queen’s — Wamsley 7-316, avg. 45.1, longest 64.
By Concordia — Asare, Prempeh, Robertson.
By Queen’s — None.
By Concordia — Beaulieu, Hallett, Armstrong.
By Queen’s — Broodo; Mackey; McQuilkin and Dougherty.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
For sure, Billy McPhee says, it’s going to be different this year.
Different, in this case, isn’t a synonym for bad, the Queen’s Golden Gaels quarterback insists, even for a fellow who said good-bye to so many teammates and returns for his final season of intercollegiate ball practically having to introduce himself before he calls his first play in the huddle.
“It’s weird,” McPhee said. “There’s definitely a sense of having to get acquainted, but that’s what the summer is for.
“The interesting thing is we’re not young, we’re inexperienced. There’s a lot of third- and fourth-year guys who just haven’t seen the field yet because we’ve been so old for so long.”
It’s that dimension, the curiosity surrounding how close those players are to being capable of making contributions at the intercollegiate level, that makes the prospect intriguing for those around the football team. There’s a bunch of players who have been waiting patiently in the wings, practising daily for two years or more as members of the scout squad, whose sole purpose is to take their lumps from the first team in those aforementioned practices.
They’re keen, McPhee observed, and unlikely to want to squander the long-awaited opportunity.
“The way I’m looking at it is, look, those (departed) guys were amazing players, but each and every one of them at one point got hurt, and somebody else had to replace them,” said McPhee, who no longer has five of the linemen, five receivers or two running backs at his disposal who were available a year ago.
“Yes, they’re absent and they’re not here to provide leadership but we have guys who can fill their roles adequately, if not better than they did.”
Better than, say, the perennial all-stars on the line; better than receivers Scott Macdonell or Giovanni Aprile, who are now in the CFL, or Aaron Gazendam, about to begin studying medicine at the University of Toronto? Better than Ryan Granberg, the 1,000-yard back?
“Because they’re a bit green behind the ears, they’re a bit more willing to learn,” McPhee said of his younger teammates. “Once you get to a certain year in your career you’re kind of happy with where you’re at. There’s going to be no stagnation of the young guys. They’re always going to be hungry and want to learn and get better, whereas maybe when you’re a bit older that may not happen.”
It’s the sort of phenomenon that led legendary coach Doug Hargreaves once to opine that fifth-year guys can be “a pain in the ass.” Of course, exceptions to that rule resulted in national championships in 1992 and 2009 but McPhee understands the reasoning.
“It may be a bit more difficult (for a veteran player),” he said. “As much as you’re listening to Coach, you may be (thinking), ‘OK, Coach, sure,’ but the young guys do listen to every word Coach has to say, and I think that will add value.”
The Gaels will get to test McPhee’s hypothesis beginning Sunday afternoon, when they host the Concordia Stingers in an exhibition game at Richardson Stadium. Game time is 1 o’clock.
“Nothing can get you in shape for a game like a game, so it’s beneficial for a team like ours to have a chance to play Concordia,” McPhee said. It’s time to see what exactly may be the implications on the field for this far less veteran group.
“We’re not really lacking in terms of athletes,” McPhee said. “It’s just a matter of understanding the game, whether that’s understanding how we want certain routes run or even blocking assignments.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of going back to basics, and football’s not a complicated game, so if we have to pull things back a week or two, it’s not the end of the world.”
The implications in terms of leadership are different. McPhee says he’s fully aware, as a senior, of what’s expected of him in that regard, but that, too, will evolve, he expects.
“We’ve already had a players-only meeting for senior guys and we’ve discussed our role on the team, and how different it is for this year, as opposed to last year,” he said. “It was beneficial because the real leaders stepped up.
“There were guys who had a lot to say and there were guys who were a little more reserved, and that’s a good thing because you don’t want to have a battle of leadership. We’ve all been on teams where there’s been a fight for who wants to be captain and it’s not about who gets to be at the coin flip. It’s about who’s going to make plays for us, who’s going to say the right thing at the right time.”
McPhee said he’s looking forward to being one of those guys.
“If I’m being honest with myself I really haven’t had this opportunity since my fifth year of high school,” he said. “It has been quite a while since every word I say will be listened to that intently. That’s not to say that last year or the year prior I wasn’t looked at as a player that would help lead our team on the field but I think off the field my actions will speak louder than words.
“That comes with the territory. That’s why I decided to come to Queen’s, to a city like Kingston where the spotlight is on you a bit more than, say, Toronto or Hamilton. It’s exciting. That’s why you want to play.”
The Stingers come to town with a new coach, Mickey Donovan, a 40-year-old Concordia alumnus who will be making his head-coaching debut. A two-time all-Canadian and the 2004 President’s Trophy winner as the outstanding defensive player in Canada, Donovan coached the linebackers at Western for four years starting in 2007 and in 2011 he was named assistant head coach at McGill.
The Stingers, 0-8 in Quebec confrerence play a year ago, haven’t had a winning season since 2008, with a record since then of 13-29. Their prize recruit is Danial White, all-state 5A high school quarterback from Ashland, Ore., who completed 59 per cent of his passes last year. In leading his team to the Oregon state semifinals, he threw for more than 2,200 yards in 13 games, for 26 touchdowns and just four interceptions.