Gaels happy to end training camp, even if it means going to Windsor
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It may be necessary but it doesn’t quite fit anyone’s definition of fun.
“Training camp,” Queen’s Golden Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said Thursday, “sort of saps the life out of you.
“I’m sure the players would reiterate we’ve just about had enough of training camp. We’d like to get out there and get into the live action and into a more regular routine.”
After two weeks of practising twice a day, even the arduous bus trip to Windsor starts to look good and the Gaels will make it for the third time in the last four years this weekend to open the Ontario University Athletics football season against the Lancers.
Game time on Labour Day is 1 p.m.
At least this year’s camp had an exhibition game in the middle of it to break the tedium, and perhaps more importantly to provide some answers to the myriad questions facing the Gaels as they prepare to introduce as many as 25 new players into their lineup.
Sheahan said the 25-18 loss to the Concordia Stingers wasn’t his team’s best game—“if you win after having five turnovers, you’re extremely fortunate; there were some big play mistakes that obviously can’t make going forward”—but there were some things the Gaels did, he said, “very, very well.”
“The way we managed the hurry-up offence was nothing short of impressive,” said Sheahan, whose team moved the ball 96 yards in just under 40 seconds in the game’s final minute and had the game-tying touchdown pass knocked down in the end zone on the final play of the game. “It was a pretty high level of efficiency for this time in the season.”
He also spoke well of the play of the defensive line, eight rookies who nonetheless allowed the Stingers to score just 11 points.
“The force unit we put out there, they were puppies,” Sheahan said, “and they did an admirable job. We probably gave up a few more yards on the ground than we’re accustomed to but they did a really good job of not letting them into the end zone.
“It was encouraging to see our defence rally because we used a lot of guys. With the return of the seniors, I expect we’ll be a little tougher.”
That’s a hypothesis that will be put to the test Monday, when the Gaels face quarterback Austin Kennedy for the final time. The fifth-year Lancer, who already holds four school passing records and has been an all-star twice in the last three years, is still looking for his first victory over Queen’s.
That doesn’t mean the Gaels don’t respect his ability to think on the run and make plays where no one else on the field can see them.
“Oftentimes he’s at his best when the play breaks down,” Sheahan said. “He has the capacity to push the play to six or seven seconds and dump the ball off to somebody. It can be quite discouraging. He can also run the field to make plays. The defence has its challenges to get ready to play a kid like that.
“It’s an interesting team. They’ve got a lot of good athletes.”
Receiver Alex Carroll said you always expect a fight against Windsor.
“They’ve always been not quite what you expect them to be,” he said. “They’ve played us tough, going back a number of years.
“They’re a feisty team. They’re never going to give up, so if we get the opportunity to put them away early we have to put our foot on the pedal and not let up at all.”
Fellow receiver Curtis Carmichael recalled last year’s game, a 49-34 Queen’s victory, turned when Windsor fumbled a kickoff. The Gaels scored 14 points in a span of eight seconds to take command of what had been a four-point ball game.
“What happens on special teams is under-rated,” he said. “That play changed the atmosphere of the game. It’s a discouraging moment.
“If we can win the field position game with special teams, the game will be more in our favour, because I think our offence can move the ball better than they do.”
Jesse Andrews, the running back, characterized Windsor as “always a tough opponent.”
“They’re always hanging in there until the fourth quarter. They’re always a tough team to run against. Their linebackers flow nicely. In the Concordia game it seemed the new O line was able to get around the edge nicely, so hopefully they can carry that into the Windsor game.”
That kind of confidence in their younger teammates has the veteran Gaels believing the hardship for the dramatic turnover in personnel will be minimal.
“It’s always difficult to have older guys leave and have a new class come in,” said defensive back Brendan Morgan. “It kind of disrupts the chemistry in a way, but at the same time it’s exciting. You’ve got a group of new guys and you never know what kind of talent they bring.
“I was kind of worried (during the summer), but you trust in your recruiters and they did a good job. We have a lot of great guys. I’m not too worried right now.”
Carmichael said he never doubted the newly minted starters would be ready.
“They worked hard. The older guys, they had a lot of experience, but the new guys are a lot stronger and faster. I’ve trained with all the guys the last couple of summers, so I understand the physical aspect. The older guys, they had their spots and they were training hard, but the new guys were, ‘OK, this is our time,’ so they elevated their level of training. They’re ready to go.
“It was good to see how the O line was working (against Concordia). They were managing the pocket well and we were getting up the field. It was good to see we could get open, so I feel really confident in our offence.”
Morgan said it’s difficult, at times, to mentor young players while you’re trying to learn your own role, “but … these young guys, they look up to us and they’re our future, so if we don’t take care of them, who’s going to?”
“Andrew Lue, Matt Webster, those guys really looked out for me, helped me to understand the playbook. Playing defence was a new thing for me, so a lot of stuff went over my head. Those guys really made it easier and I was appreciative of that.
“The younger guys are starting to understand concepts and the kind of culture we’re trying to create here. All in all, they’re doing very well.”
Because of that, Carroll said, the inevitable divide between young and old is quickly melting away.
“Last year I felt a lot less of a leader and a go-to guy on the team, so it’s a new role for me and a new role for a lot of guys. We’ve had to change our approach, in terms of setting the example for the young guys and being the guys who are going to make the plays in the games.
“A lot of us crave that. We want to have our names in the paper, we want to be the guys who win games. In practice, that’s shown. We’ve done lots of situational drills and the chemistry on offence has really come together in the last week.”