A new era of football at Laurier

#2 Jazz Lindsay is tackled by a Hawk during Aug. 25's game versus Guelph. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

#2 Jazz Lindsay is tackled by a Hawk during Aug. 25’s game versus Guelph. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

Football at Wilfrid Laurier University is turning a new leaf, and not a minute too soon.

It began with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call for freshmen at Waterloo College Hall for training camp, continued with two-a-days for an entire week and rounded out with a playbook full of new plays and runs.

And it holds a new attitude that the Golden Hawks welcomed with open arms.

“The tempo is really high this year,” said third-year kicker Ronnie Pfeffer. “Everyone’s really excited. With a new coach, there’s a new philosophy, there’s a new everything. Everything’s getting really exciting right now.”

“I feel like we’re really, really organized right now. A lot of the coaches are on the exact same page. We’re a lot more closer and tight nit so it helps with the chemistry,” defensive lineman Ese Mrabure-Ajufo said.

The 2013 installment of the Hawks holds changes and improvements, but also many uncertainties, especially coming off one of their worst seasons, with a 3-5 record in 2012, which featured an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarter-final blowout loss to the Queen’s Gaels. At the conclusion of the season, then head coach Gary Jeffries was relieved of his duties, leaving room for the young, aspiring Michael Faulds to take the reigns.

In his first-ever training camp as a head coach, Faulds pushed the Hawks harder than they’ve ever been pushed— a lot of running, a new playbook, a strict schedule and a no-huddle offence to implement in merely ten days.

“The team worked really hard,” Faulds said at the conclusion of training camp before the Aug. 25 Guelph game. “No one had a tougher training camp than we did. No one worked more hours than we did and we’re going to continue that.”

“I really like Michael Faulds as our head coach,” said Kwaku Boateng, a rookie defensive lineman, who got the start against Guelph. “He’s a young coach, but he’s very intelligent and he understands where we are because he was there just a couple years ago. And if you’re not doing your job, he’s not afraid to crack down on you.”

“I don’t like a soft coach,” he laughed.

With the absence of a large group of graduates, as well as receiver Alex Anthony, who opted to stay with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL, Faulds and the Hawks looked to recruitment to fill the voids left on an already-young team.

With rookies such as Boateng, Taylor Calverley, Brandon Calver and William Pitt-Doe, Laurier could see some enhancement in their already strong defence.

The return of third-year Mrabure-Ajufo and Asante Mizan, and the addition of Boateng on defence can help solidify the unit, which held strong many times in a tainted season last year. Special teams will look to Marcus Arkarakas on returns, as he already proved valuable against Guelph with eight punts for 44 yards and one kickoff for 28 yards, and Pfeffer, who hit a career-high field goal from 44 yards last season.

Photo by Ryan Hueglin

Photo by Ryan Hueglin

However, the uncertainties surrounding offence remain, as quarterback Julien John comes in for his first-career start — in three years with Laurier’s program.

The main thing that Laurier is worried about coming into the 2013 campaign is mental mistakes. In 2012, the Hawks were unsure of plays and made simple errors, which led to a four-game drought without a touchdown and an eleven-quarter span without a point.

“We’re just working on our game plan, we’re studying as much film as we can and really focusing on limiting our mental mistakes,” second-year receiver, Greg Nyhof, said. “We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot playing the game and that’s our main focus, just running our offence, running our defence and just being organized.”

Nyhof, who was named a captain of the Hawks aside Mrabure-Ajufo, mentioned that Laurier’s success is going to come down to staying composed in every game.

“That preparation, that’s on us,” he said. “So on Saturday or whenever we’re playing, we can come out and let the sparks fly and not worry about the mental mistakes.”

“The main focus will be for the offence to learn the routes and just make sure that everything’s in sync,” Pfeffer echoed. “Everything’s routine. Last year, there were a lot of mental errors, so this year, we’ve got to make sure everything’s good.”

Laurier doesn’t have an easy road in the OUA either. Following their season opener against the Yates Cup finalists and No. 7 nationally ranked Guelph Gryphons — which ended in a 21-7 loss —, the Hawks also entertain the No.2 Queen’s Gaels, the No.4 Western Mustangs and the Yates Cup winners, Vanier Cup finalists and No. 6 McMaster Marauders.

But for Mrabure-Ajufo, expectations won’t help prepare for the hard road the Hawks see before them.

“I’m expecting good things, but at the same time, I don’t like to have expectations,” he said. “I just want to go with the flow … I want to be able to dictate the game and have the season we all want to have.”

And as for Faulds, in his first-career season as a head coach, expectations are something he’s not worried about in the least.

“I’ve got a lot of questions about record and all that. And I tell my players, ‘don’t even look at the scoreboard. Give maximal effort on every play, every snap and we’ll do that for four quarters’ … We’re either going to have a W or an L, and we’ll move on to the next week and we’ll prepare just the same even if we have an L or a W.”

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