Team aims for playoff spot despite early setbacks
By Jim Hynes
With the progress made in 2009 and an historic pre-season win at Toronto, the 130th season of football at McGill looked to be a promising one indeed. But the football fates, as gridiron fans know, can be fickle sometimes.
After two consecutive winless seasons, the Redmen rebounded with a 3-5 record in 2009, resulting in a fifth-place finish and the short end of a three-way tie with Concordia and Bishop’s for the final playoff berth in the Quebec University Football League (QUFL).
The emergence of rookie Quarterback Jonathan Collin, the QUFL Rookie of the Year in 2009, was reason alone to hope for bigger and better things in 2010. The Education sophomore was instrumental in the Redmen’s turnaround last year. Passing for over 1500 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Greenfield Park, Que., native also established McGill single-season records for most rushing TDs by a quarterback and a rookie (7). He was also the recipient of a 2010 Montreal Alouettes athletic excellence bursary from the Quebec Foundation for University Sports.
Collin picked up where he left off when the Redmen opened their 2010 campaign with a pre-season win at the University of Toronto on Aug. 28, their first victory over the Varsity Blues since 1969 in a long-standing rivalry that dates back to 1884. So there was every reason to be hopeful prior to the Sept. 5 regular season opener against No. 2-ranked Laval. Those hopes, however, were dealt a serious blow when Collin suffered a season-ending knee injury in the game’s third quarter.
In the Sept. 11 home opener against Bishop’s, Collin’s replacement, Ryne Bondy, a third-year pivot from Richmond Hill, Ont. making his second career start for the Redmen, passed for 308 yards, including an eight-yard TD toss to Thomas Fortin that tied the game 16-16 with 25 seconds remaining. McGill struck first in overtime when placekicker Austin Anderson nailed a career-best 49-yard field-goal, but Bishop’s rallied to force an additional overtime series when Bishops kicker Josh Maveety registered his fourth field-goal of the game, from 11 yards out to even the score at 19-19. Quincy Van De Cruize then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from QB Jesse Andrews to give the Gaiters a 26-19 win.
Coach remains optimistic
Despite the injury to Collin and the heartbreaking loss to Bishop’s, McGill head coach Sonny Wolfe is still optimistic about the rest of the season.
“I’m happy with how hard we have played over the first couple of games,” said Wolfe, who is in his fourth season as head coach of the Redmen. “I am pleased with how our offensive side of the game is looking with 10 returning starters. However, we still have a few questions to answer on defence and special teams. But we had a good recruiting year and I am still expecting us to be in contention for a playoff berth.”
Wolfe, who’s 2010 squad currently features 50 returnees (12 seniors, 20 juniors, 18 sophomores) to go along with 29 new faces, has reason to be optimistic, particularly about his team’s offense, which features a veteran line. Another key offensive cog is All-Canadian receiver Charles-Antoine Sinotte, who has returned for a fifth season. In McGill’s opener at Laval, the three-time all-star became the first player in CIS history to reach the 200-catch plateau.
The loss of all-conference running back Andrew Hamilton is expected to be offset by the one-two punch of junior Taylor Kuprowski from Kanata, Ont., and rookie Shawn Murphy, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound star from the Ottawa Sooners junior team.
The Redmen’s kicking game should also be in good shape with the return of all-conference place-kicker Austin Anderson, a junior from Canmore, Alta., and the son of former NFL star kicker Gary Anderson. Punting duties will be handled by Tomas Silva, a Kingston, Ont., native who averaged more than 40 yards per punt over his first two games.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line features eight returnees. Rush end Courtney Bishop, a 6-foot-2, 222-pound senior from Toronto, will anchor the left side along with All-Canadian tackle Ben Thompson, a 21-year-old senior from Fredericton, N.B. Both played in the 2010 CIS East-West Bowl, a showcase for CFL draft hopefuls.
Sophomore Simon Bosisio (6-2, 285) of Montreal is expected to start at nosetackle, while junior Renaud Collard-Seguin (6-3, 240) of Bangor, Maine is back at right end.
The linebacking corps, which has been inexperienced and undersized over the past three years, has been overhauled. The only returning starter is Charles-Evens Peltrop, a junior from Montreal who has moved from outside to middle linebacker after registering 22 tackles last season. Vying for a starting role will be sophomore Tyler Lavin, senior from Nanaimo, B.C. Freshmen expected to step up include Jesse Briggs of Kelowna, B.C., Brendan Carrière of Richmond, B.C., Ian Sheriff of Toronto and Montrealer Alex Bernard from College Montmorency.
The defensive backfield will also have a new look with the loss of four starters. The key returnee is Joff Gorin of Montreal, who was the team’s only DB to start at the same position in all eight games last season. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound junior can play both at halfback and corner. Also back is safety Patrick Bourgon from Pointe-au-Chêne, Que., who returns after a solid campaign that culminated in an appearance at the CIS East-West Bowl.
One newcomer to watch is speedy Jeff Thompson, a transfer from Simon Fraser University, who received a Sugar Bowl ring during his redshirt season (2005) with the West Virginia Mountaineers. Thompson, who will be McGill’s prime return man on special teams, started the season with a bang and was named CIS special teams player of the week after the opener at Laval.
The Quebec conference has expanded to a nine-game regular season schedule this year. For the first time since an interlocking schedule began in 2002, McGill has no games slated against the Atlantic conference. Instead, the Redmen will play Laval, Montreal, Concordia and Sherbrooke twice, and Bishop’s once.
The Redmen will host Concordia (1-1) on Sept. 17 in the 42nd Shaughnessy Cup contest, a Friday night affair that will also double as the team’s annual “Fill the Stadium” event. A crowd in excess of 6,000 is expected.
With files from Earl Zukerman