‘It’s going to take us some time’

(Photo by Nick Lachance).

Gary Jeffries knew this year was going to be hard the moment he finished last season sneaking into the playoffs, only to lose in the opening game.

He knew that this year wouldn’t be easy to rebuild after losing stalwart receivers Dillon Heap and Shamawd Chambers, either. But with a hopeful spirit following Jeffries and his Wilfrid Laurier University football team, there’s no telling what will really happen.

“It’s a young group [of players] and there’s certainly some great athletes out here,” Jeffries, the Laurier head coach said. “It’s going to take us some time, but I think there’s great potential here and a lot of enthusiasm.”

After being knocked out in the quarter-finals last season — a season where the team was ranked No. 10 in Canada and expected to have a good run in the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) playoffs — very little is expected of the 2012 Golden Hawks. Many of the star players, including receivers Heap and Chambers who led the team last year, moved on, leaving the majority of this year’s squad in the hands of younger athletes.

“[Heap and Chambers] are as good we’ve had in here in a long time so you don’t necessarily replace them,” Jeffries said. “But we’ve got some great kids, and they’ll develop a little bit at a time.”

Fourth-year receiver Alex Anthony agreed.

“We lost a bunch of stars last year but I think those guys prepared everyone else to fill in their shoes,” he said. “We have a lot of studs this year, a lot of guys coming in, a lot of guys coming back, so I think everyone’s comfortable now.”

Anthony, who finished last season with seven catches for 73 yards, comes into the season after competing at the annual East West Bowl in London in May with teammates Isaac Dell and Felix Odum. The three will take on the veteran role going into the season.

Anthony will take on the leadership role this year as one of Laurier’s captains. His presence will be an asset if the Hawks plan to generate offence on the field.

“I’ve always tried to be a leader on the field but now the coaches have put an actual leadership role in my hand, I like it,” he said. It’s a fun thing to be able lead so many guys and I think we’ve got an awesome group of captains to lead the Laurier Golden Hawks this year.”

But that’s if Anthony can get past injury. A problem that has plagued him throughout his career at WLU.

As one of nearly 20 players nursing injuries, Anthony was sidelined in last week’s controlled scrimmage against the University of Waterloo with a rolled ankle. He assured that he’ll be fine, but the injury plague could be costly.

“Right now, it’s not good,” Jeffries said regarding the injury situation. “But there’s no season-ending injuries, so that’s the good part, and we’re confident that a number of them will come back and give us more depth.”

But depth has become less of an issue for Laurier since the start of camp, as an addition to their offence has become a large asset. Quarterback Travis Eman, a transfer from Furman University in South Carolina, joined the Hawks early this year after enrolling in a university closer to his Brampton home in order to be closer to his ill mother. After enduring a compassionate appeal with Wilfrid Laurier University to be enrolled in his academic classes, Eman then met with the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) federation in another appeal to be cleared to play this upcoming season.

When the appeal had been accepted, Eman’s presence on the Golden Hawk field was anything but subtle.

“Eman will be our starter,” Jeffries said. “The other kids have all competed hard and we think any of them can go in there.
“But I think Travis right now is ahead and he’ll be the guy.”

Eman also has five years of CIS eligibility remaining, which will become crucial in the rebuilding years for the Laurier squad.

So can the Golden Hawks withstand a growing OUA league while in a rebuilding period?

The University of Toronto will be the first test.

“It’s going to be tough,” Jeffries said of his team’s season opening game against Toronto. “They’re much improved; they’ve got an outstanding quarterback they’ve brought in and it’ll be a challenge. We’re going to have to go down there prepared.”

Anthony agreed.

“We have to come in guns blazing. We can’t overlook Toronto,” he said. “We have come out there and go one play at a time because I think in previous years we’ve overlooked our first opponent to the Westerns and the McMasters, but Toronto’s a great school and great football team.”

-With files from Justin Fauteux

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