Revamped coaching staff, strong group of recruits boost gridiron squad’s hopes
By Jim Hynes
There are many new faces on the McGill football Redmen as the team prepares to kick off its 132nd season on Sunday against powerhouse Laval in Quebec City.
Heading into his first full season as Redmen bench boss, head coach Clint Uttley is hopeful that a roster that includes 50 returning players and about 40 new recruits, as well as a revamped coaching staff will help the team bounce back after two consecutive 0-9 seasons.
“We brought in a really good group from AA and AAA Quebec CEGEPs this year,” says Uttley, who moved up from his post as associate coach and defensive co-ordinator to take the head coach position for the final three games of last season.
“We got more AAA all-stars than in the last decade or two. It’s a great class. We got five really good offensive line recruits. There are lots of young kids who are super-talented, but talent has to catch up to experience at some point. That’s kind of a grooming and mentoring thing – it takes a good year or two for them to get into the full swing of things.”
Joining Uttley on the headset and clipboard brigade to provide that grooming and mentorship are new coordinators Pat Boies (offence) and Mickey Donovan (defence). Donovan comes to the team from Western University, where he coached the team’s linebackers for the past four seasons.
“That’s a big score for us. Mickey was offered a number of head coaching opportunities, but chose to come to McGill for a couple of reasons, the biggest one being that his little brother (Linebackers coach Patrick Donovan) is also a full-time coach with us.”
Boies, meanwhile, comes to McGill from Quebec City-area CEGEP Collège François-Xavier-Garneau, which he led to a AAA CEGEP league Bol d’Or title as head coach last season.
“The whole point of the overhauling of the coaching staff was to get the best possible recruiters and teachers we could but who also had outstanding playing backgrounds,” Uttley says. “That was a big thing for me. There’s an old saying in university football that there’s no such thing as a great college coach, only a great recruiter. The reality here is that we have to make a concentrated effort to get both the French and English kids interested in this school. My preference is to bring the best student-athletes from across Canada here, period. But I would really like to get the best student-athletes from Quebec at the same time.”
Sophomore Dallon Kuprowski, who led Canada to a gold medal at the IFAF Under-19 world championship in July at Austin, Texas, will get the start at quarterback against Laval. He’ll be backed up by junior Jonathan Collin, who won the Bol d’Or championship in CEGEP football and was voted rookie of the year in the Quebec University conference in 2009 before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the opener of his sophomore year, and fifth-year man Ryne Bondy. The QB situation, Uttley says, will be evaluated on a daily basis, with no clear No. 2 or No. 3 designation assigned by the coaching staff.
Uttley and his staff will also focus on discipline, something the team was short of in their August 26 23-9 exhibition loss to Queen’s, in which the team took 19 penalties, including 10 holding calls.
“With the players we talk about changing the culture all the time,” Uttley said. “I tell them how the number one strength of McGill football has to be discipline. And those things did not happen on the weekend. There were no cheap shots or dirty play or anything like that, it was just execution.”
The Queen’s game cost the team the services of rookie linebacker Carl Jobin-Shaw to a torn muscle. But the Redmen will get a boost on the offensive line with the return of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical student who has been doing an internship in the Gaspé. The highly touted third-year man, who Uttley calls “a legitimate pro prospect,” is expected to play despite only getting three days of practices in full pads.
As for any goals or predictions for the upcoming season, Uttley says he likes to keep it simple and direct.
“I don’t have number goals. I give the players a list of four or five goals, like playing 60 minutes, being the least-penalized team in the conference, executing in the red zone. And I’ve told them that if they actually carry out each and everyone of these goals come the end of the year we should be in a position to at least make a push for a playoff spot. As rough as the last two or three years here have been, the competitive spirit will not allow me to say, ‘we’re rebuilding.’ I’ll never put that word out there.”