Redmen football: 2015 season preview

The McGill Redmen have embarked upon their 135th season of football and will officially open the campaign with their league home opener against Bishop's on Friday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. Longtime Athletics communications officer Earl Zukerman gives a breakdown of what to expect from the team this year.

McGill-football4By Earl Zukerman

The McGill Redmen have embarked upon their 135th season of football and will officially open the campaign with their league home opener against Bishop’s on Friday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. This year also marks the centennial for Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, which opened on Oct. 22, 1915, with an intercollegiate track & field meet. The event will be celebrated as part of the McGill Homecoming game versus Concordia on Oct. 24.

The Redmen are coming off a disappointing 0-8 last-place finish in the tough six-team Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec conference, which has produced the Vanier Cup national champion in eight of the last 12 seasons. Recently-appointed head coach and defensive coordinator Ronald Hilaire has had a fruitful recruiting year with 35 freshmen in camp. His opening-day roster will feature 40 returnees including six seniors, 18 juniors and 16 sophomores.

“We have a young committed team, improved our talent base, strength and conditioning and had a solid recruiting year, so I am expecting this group to be very much in contention for a playoff berth,” says Coach Hilaire, who took over as co-head coach on Sept. 30, last season when Clint Uttley stepped down.

McGill is slated to play Bishop’s (1-7) and Concordia (5-3) twice apiece, with single contests against Acadia (3-5), Sherbrooke (5-3), Laval (7-1) and Montreal (7-1). The post-season begins on Nov. 7, culminated by the 51st presentation of the Vanier Cup national championship from Laval’s Telus Stadium, Nov. 28.

The Redmen have lost 11 starters, seven of them on offence, most notably OT Frederic Methot and TE Simon Gingras-Gagnon, running backs Jean-Philippe Paquette (286 all-purpose yards), Raphael Casey(254 rushing yards) and Pelle Jorgen (182 all-purpose yards), as well as receivers Pascal Tshilambo (153 rec. yards) and Damian Massey-Hirt (127 rec. yards). On defence, key losses include DL Carl Laverdiere(14.5 tackles, 2 sacks) and LB Ricard Lubin (13 tackles, 2.5 sacks) along with DBs Simon Lamontagne(28 tackles, 1 INT) and Maxime Chaput-Dupuy (24 tackles, 2.5 sacks).

The offensive side of McGill’s game in 2015 is expected to have a new look under the guidance of first-year offensive coordinator Benoit Groulx, who will utilize his experience as a two-time Vanier Cup champion quarterback with Laval.  A veteran offensive line is in place to protect the quarterback, in addition to 2013 all-conference running back Luis Guimont-Mota and veteran receivers Louis Brouillette and Yannick Langelier-Vanasse.

The battle for the starting role at QB will be an interesting one with Joel HouleNicolas English and Matthew Mannarino all in the mix. Houle, a six-foot, 228-pound sophomore from Chateauguay, Que., became a starter in his freshman year and completed 95 of 190 attempts (50.0%) for 1,072 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions. He has also rushed 29 times for 116 yards, a 4.0 average and a pair of TDs.

He will be challenged by a pair of promising freshmen. English, a six-foot, 200-pound product of Collège de Saint-Jean completed 120 of 194 attempts for 1,546 yds, a whopping 17 TDs and only four interceptions. Mannarino, a 6-foot-2, 218-pounder from the QJFL’s Chateauguay Raiders was 91 for 218, 1,308 yards, five TDs and 20 picks.

Pacing the running attack is the aforementioned Guimont-Mota, a shifty, 5-foot-8, 191-pound senior from Quebec City, who played in the 2015 CIS East-West Bowl and is expected to have a bounce-back year after only suiting up for three games last season. In his freshman campaign, he led the conference in rushing with 824 yards on 147 carries, a 5.6 average and four TDs. Expected to join him in the starting backfield is freshman Mike Lusikila, a 5-foot-11, 199-pound product of College du Vieux-Montreal who rushed 136 times for 638 yards and five TDs.

Among the receiving corps, Brouillette, a six-foot, 187-pound wide-out from Sherbrooke, led the McGill pass-catchers last year with 33 receptions for 377 yards and one TD in only six games. He was one of five Redmen picked to played in the East-West Bowl last June.

Langelier-Vanasse, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior from Lachine, Que., possess explosive speed and also poses a double-threat as return specialist. Last year, he led the Redmen in all-purpose yards with 579 for an average of 72.4 per outing. He collected 218 yards in the air, 236 on punt returns and 125 on kickoff runbacks.

Other receivers expected to start include senior Nicholas Gaudreault (1 rec., 6 yards) of Lachine, who also played in the East-West Bowl, junior Jonathan Mack (7 rec., 90 yards) of St. Lambert, Que., and sophomore Remi Bertellin (7 rec., 105 yards, 1 TD), a native of France.

A pair of freshmen vying for the starting role at tight end are Jose Rodriguez (6-2, 213) out of Vanier College and Malik Gagnon (6-2, 200) from College de Rimouski.

The kicking game will be handled by newcomer Justin Lavallee, a native of Ile-Bizard, Que., who has transferred from the Ottawa Gee-Gees after previously playing for John Abbott College.

A veteran offensive line features left tackle Pierre-Olivier Daloze, a 6-foot-2, 279-pound senior who also played in the East-West Bowl, plus sophomore left guards Steven Gusew (6-2, 286) and Anis Kali (5-11, 269), senior centre Terence Gamit (5-11, 297), junior right guard Qadr Spooner (6-3, 295) and senior right tackle Timothy Mitchell (6-4, 300), who was invited to the CFL’s Ottawa RedBlacks training camp in June.

A young defensive line features a talented group, led by junior DE Devon Stewart (5-11, 245; 32.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and sophomore DE Ousmane Guindo (5-10, 224; 12 tackles, 1 sack), who also played in the East-West Bowl. Battling for a starting spot at defensive tackle are rookies Rodrigue Caron (5-10, 265) from College de Rimouski, Scott MacDonald-Ducharme (6-0, 269) out of John Abbott College and Jonathan Lawson (6-2, 245), a native of  Oakville, Ont., who played at Milton Academy in Milton, Mass. Another freshman in the mix for a starting role is DE Simon Aubin-Lavoie (6-2, 210), a Montrealer out of St. Paul’s high school in Concord, N.H.

The linebacking corps will be anchored by sophomore Karl Forgues (5-9, 188; OLB), who was recently named by as a preseason all-Canadian after meriting the RSEQ conference’s defensive rookie-of-the-year honours in 2014. He led the league with 74.5 tackles in eight games last year, including eight QB sacks. Forgues added an interception, three knockdowns and a pair of forced fumbles. Also returning is sophomore Eric Gracioppo (6-2, 234; MLB; 19.5 tackles; 2 FF) and sophomoreAnthony Couturier-Lagace (5-10, 204; OLB; 16.5 tackles, 1 KD). A freshman to watch out for is Dane Wagner (6-1, 228) an American import from Niceville, Fla., who played at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

Key returnees in the defensive backfield include sophomore CB David Polynice (5-10, 185; 13 tackles, 1 KD) of Montreal, sophomore HB Mack Dessources (5-7, 178; 26.5 tackles, 1 Sack, 4 KD) of Laval, Que., Laval transfer Alexandre Lefebvre-Tardif (5-10, 192; 3 tackles in 2 GP), a second-year safety from Montreal, junior HB Charles-William Tremblay (5-9, 206; 6.5 tackles in 2 GP) of Quebec City, junior HB Stephane Ishimwe-Baganizi (5-11, 187; 3 tackles in 4 GP) and sophomore CB Jethro Sainvry (5-8, 174; 7.5 tackles in 5 GP, 2 KD, 1 FR), both native Montrealers.

2015 McGill football schedule (home games in bold)

Fri., Aug. 21        *Lost 3-36 vs Toronto (EXHIBITION)

Fri., Sept. 4     vs Bishop’s, 7 p.m. (RSEQ LEAGUE OPENER)

Fri., Sept. 11        at Montreal, 7 p.m. (SHAUGHNESSY CUP)

Sat., Sept. 19       at Concordia, 2 p.m. (SHRINE BOWL)

Sat., Sept. 26  vs Acadia, 1 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 3          at Bishop’s, 3 p.m. (TVA)

Sat., Oct. 17        at Sherbrooke, 2 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 24    vs. Concordia, 2 p.m. (HOMECOMING & SHAUGHNESSY CUP; TVA)

Sat., Oct. 31     vs Laval, 1 p.m. (TRIBUTE TO GRADUATING SENIORS) 

Sat., Nov. 7         vs. TBC, 2 p.m. (RSEQ SEMIFINAL; TVA)

Sat., Nov. 14       vs. TBC, 2 p.m. (RSEQ DUNSMORE CUP; TVA)

Sat., Nov. 21       at OUA Champion, 1 p.m. (CIS MITCHELL BOWL)

Sat., Nov. 28      vs. TBC, 1 p.m. (CIS VANIER CUP @ Laval)