2021 Football Preview: Laurier hopes to end playoff drought during unique OUA season
Exactly 700 days and twenty-three months since their last game, the Wilfrid Laurier University football team will return to the field this Saturday when they start their season at home against the York Lions.
The Golden Hawks saw their season come to an end early for the second year in a row following a 22-10 loss to the Carleton Ravens on Oct. 18, 2019.
Since then, Laurier and football teams across the conference have endured a complete cancellation of the 2020 season, seeing several core players leave their team due to graduation and by way of the CFL Draft.
A challenge that will exist across all 10 of the other OUA schools, Laurier’s roster will look a lot different since the last time they were on the field. With two new recruiting classes in 2020 and 2021, there will be almost 50 players on the roster who haven’t played a game in the purple and gold yet.
Coach Michael Faulds also made changes to his staff, adding Marcello Simmons as the special team’s coordinator and Todd Galloway as the new offensive coordinator. After a year away from football, Faulds will rely on a balance of veterans and youth for the upcoming season.
Losing stars on offense such as Levondre Gordon and Bryce Bell, as well as defensive all-stars such as Sam Achaempong and Ayo Ajayi, to name a few, Faulds knows that this year is different from others.
“Guys who may have just dressed for special teams back in 2019 are now some of our greatest leaders going into this season,” Faulds said.
The optimistic Faulds is not worried about challenges with the roster as he expects to work through the growing pains throughout the year and take it “one game at a time.”
With the season opener three days away, Laurier has had plenty of practice throughout the summer. Through meetings/training sessions in June and July as well as training camp starting nearly two weeks ago, Faulds believes that the team is prepared for the unique season.
“There is a different level of energy this year. Everyone in the program is extra invested and more motivated,” Faulds said.
We feel confident every single week that if we play our best version of Laurier football, we have a chance to win every game.Michael Faulds, Golden Hawks football team coach
He pointed to the dedication of his student-athletes to continue their training and their commitment to the sport throughout a whole year off.
“We want to see growth each week and consistently improve throughout the year,” Faulds said.
“We hope the team performance in week one will be different then our performance in week five,” he said. Hoping improvements are made by him and his staff consistently throughout the season.
Two of the players Faulds will rely on this upcoming year, is veteran quarterback, Connor Carusello and defensive linebacker, Tommy Bringi.
Carusello is entering his second full season as starting quarterback, coming off a great finish to the 2019 campaign. Bringi on the other hand, was an OUA first-team all-star in 2019, bringing speed to the defense and leading the team in tackles.
“Connor has been working hard, both mentally learning the playbook and understanding Coach Galloway’s system, but also physically, he is much stronger and can make every throw,” Faulds said.
With a year off, new offensive coordinator Galloway was able to meet with his players frequently and implement his system during the lost year, something that both Faulds and Carusello mentioned was a huge positive during what was a rather tough year held off the field. While York finished 1-7 in 2019 and has struggled in recent years with their football program, Coach Faulds is not underestimating the opponent.
“It’s not going to come easy, it’s very tough to evaluate in week one, especially this year,” Coach Faulds said.
“We’ve had 18 months off and are chomping at the bit for our first game. You know 100 per cent that the York players are just as excited as us,” he continued.
After York, Laurier will focus their attention on the battle of Waterloo to face the Warriors. A team Laurier is 6-1 against in their past seven games. In their last meeting, the two teams played in a triple overtime classic, finishing 53-50 in Laurier’s favour to help them turn their season around in 2019.
Following the Waterloo game, Carusello and his team will head on the road to play the Mustangs who have won four straight games against the Golden Hawks.
Faulds will hope to solve Greg Marshall and his Western team, who they haven’t beaten since their remarkable Yates Cup run in 2016, defeating Western 43-40 to win the provincial championship.
Western has been a challenge for Laurier, holding a 10-1 overall record against the Golden Hawks since Faulds joined the team eight years ago.
Laurier will play the defending champion, McMaster Marauders after a bye week, before finishing out the season with Windsor and a second matchup against the Warriors that might prove pivotal in the end-of-season standings.
While engaging in several community initiatives last year, including clothing and food drives as well as a blood battle with the University of Waterloo, encouraging blood donations, the team is ready for competition.
“You get to really see leadership, when your sport is taken away,” Coach Faulds said. “The team did everything in their power to be successful student-athletes off the field,” he continued.
The team is approaching the season with an optimistic and confident mindset, believing that they will be able to play their best brand of football at all three phases.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity right now and a chance to play football games,” Faulds said.
“We feel confident every single week that if we play our best version of Laurier football, we have a chance to win every game.”
With the season set to begin on Saturday, the Laurier department of athletics has remained silent on fan attendance, having not made an official announcement yet regarding the capacity at University Stadium.
Coach Faulds says he is confident there will be fans at University Stadium this Saturday but mentions that logistics of it is still unknown, as the Golden Hawks and the athletic department finalize their in-person plans.
After nearly two years, the Golden Hawks and OUA football will return this Saturday when Laurier hosts Guelph. Kickoff between the Hawks and Gryphons is set for Saturday at 1:00 pm EST, at University Stadium.