The boys are back in town
On the day after multiple tornado warnings were issued across southern Ontario and a tremendous electrical storm lit up Waterloo region, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks’ men’s football team were right back at it the next morning at University Stadium.
With still a few ominous clouds threatening to sour the players’ practice, the stratus never offered more than a scattered spittle onto the eager Hawks, ready to start their 2011 campaign and their quest for Vanier.
The Hawks have returned to campus and their first test is staring them right in the face before they’ve even set foot on the gridiron.
The team has internal questions that need to be asked, and they believe the answers lie in themselves.
Let’s start at the ever-pivotal QB-1 position. Last year’s new MBA student and starting quarterback, Shane Kelly took time to adjust to the Canadian game. The product of Basking Ridge, New Jersey eventually came around, but suffered a concussion in the Ontario University Athletics’ semifinals against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, ending his and his Hawks’ season for good.
Now Kelly has a year of experience and his receiver, Shamawd Chambers believes there’s nothing to worry about as long as the American is at the helm.
“As long as we can keep Shane healthy and keep the [Offensive] line blocking for him, we should be able to beat a lot of teams,” said Chambers.
Linebacker and leader of the defensive side Dan Bishop has just as much confidence in his friend from the South.
“He’s definitely got it down,” said the Bishop. “There’s no question about that. He’s a Canadian quarterback and he’s ready to play.”
Indeed, if the Hawks fall early, fans may be forgiven if the first place they look isn’t the offence.
The star-studded group includes Kelly, Chambers (who is a projected 2012 top-10 Canadian Football League draft pick), third-year receiver Alex Anthony, Laurier’s all-time leading punt-returner Dillon Heap and new receiver recruits Karsten Beney and Kelvin Muambe.
Chambers wants to see his offence pick up where they left off in their 32-31 loss to the Gee-Gees last year.
“We played really well as an offence. It was the first time in a long time that I’ve been here that the defence didn’t carry us but we carried them for some points in the game,” said the Markam native.
The defence is a different story. Graduation took a toll on the team as Dave Montoya and Giancarlo Rapanaro have both moved on. Offensive lineman Michael Knill has also moved back home to Michigan after completing his MBA.
“The big loss of course is Rap [Rapanaro], but we’re very confident in that group … we’ve got some great young kids who have come in,” said head coach Gary Jeffries.
Those kids would be Ese Mrabure-Ajufo, the six-foot-four defensive end from Our Lady of Mount Carmel high school in Mississauga, the Cambridge linebacker Chris Ackie and Adam Olsen, who was heavily recruited out of Halifax.
Bishop and Mitchell Bosch will help lead them through the playbook.
The players aren’t worrying too much about their ‘D’.
“Coach V’s a genius [Defensive Coordinator Ron VanMoerkerke]. The defence is going to be what it is every single year for the last 13 years,” said Chambers. “We know they’re going to go out and play.”
Jeffries knows his players should be chomping at the bit to win games. “If they’re not excited now, they’re never going to be,” said the coach.
In the recent Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) rankings released last Wednesday, Laurier took the tenth and final spot in the country’s top-10 teams.
Other OUA teams that are expected to start strong are Western (ranked second) and McMaster (third). Last year’s Vanier cup champions, Laval, start the season in top spot.
Laurier travels to York University to kick off their season on Labour Day and return on the Sept. 10 to host the Windsor Lancers at their home opener.