By Jim Hynes
After two consecutive winless seasons, the McGill Redmen are looking forward to their 129th campaign with confidence. The team kicks off its season with a Sept. 3 visit to the Université de Montréal to take on the Carabins.
Redmen Head Coach Sonny Wolfe, in his third year at the helm, expects to lead a much-improved team in 2009, one with more experience, size, skill, and depth.
The Redmen opened training camp with 48 returnees (24 on offence, 24 on defence) to go along with 32 new faces. After dressing between 19 and 23 freshmen for every game last year, Wolfe expects to dress less than half that many this season.
“We’re bigger, stronger and faster than last year,” Wolfe said. “But until we play somebody we’re not sure that we’re better. We believe we are because those are important qualities. We’ve improved the athleticism of the team, and even though we’re still a young group, we’re more experienced too. The flip side of that is that we’ve lost a fifth-year quarterback. So while we’re gaining in experience at every position, we’re losing it at the most critical one.”
The quarterback in question is two-time all-conference quarterback Matt Connell, who graduated last spring after becoming the Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s (CIS) all-time passing leader. The good news is that he’s not really left the team at all. Connell has joined the Redmen as assistant quarterback coach.
The McGill offence features eight returning starters, led by wide receiver Charles-Antoine Sinotte, a 2007 all-Canadian who was hobbled by injury for most of last year. Despite the loss of Connell, the quarterback position appears to be in good, albeit inexperienced hands. Sophomore Ryne Bondy is expected to battle with 6-foot-5, 235-pound freshman Jonathan Collin, who led the Champlain College Cavaliers to an undefeated season. Both QBs should benefit from Connell’s presence.
The Redmen running game is expected to improve this year, led by senior Chris Hayes and sophomore Taylor Kuprowski in addition to Concordia transfer Andrew Hamilton, who recently clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at a CFL evaluation camp. Also in the mix are incoming freshmen Lenn Gittens out of the St. Leonard Cougars junior program and Galen Flaherty from Trinity College School.
The defensive unit boasts 10 returning starters led by two-time all-star cornerback Anthony Lukca and Concordia transfer Moe Sidibe, a two-time All-Canadian cornerback with the Stingers.
On special teams, the Redmen will be counting on a healthy season from kicker Austin Anderson, a sophomore from Canmore, Alta. who went 5-for-5 in field-goal kicking in his CIS debut last year before going down in Week 2 with a hamstring injury and missing the remainder of the season. He is the son of legendary NFL kicker Gary Anderson.
The Redmen have only lost six starters, four on offence – including Connell, plus senior offensive lineman Luke van Ruyven, and receivers Tim Kraemer (20 rec., 285 yds., 3 TD) and Erik Galas (64 rec., 781 yds., 6 TD), who signed with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.
The only starters not returning on defence are defensive back Schuyler O’Brien, also a kick-return specialist, and Adriano Tassone, who died in a tragic car accident last March. The Redmen will be wearing special decals on their helmets this season in memory of their teammate.
Among the special events on the eight-game regular season schedule are the team’s Sept. 11 home opener against Sherbrooke in Week 2 and the annual “Fill the Stadium Game” against Bishop’s the following week (Sept. 18). The Redmen are slated to host Saint Mary’s from the Atlantic Conference in the annual McGill Homecoming Game on Oct. 17. The following week, McGill will travel across town to take on the Concordia Stingers in the 41st annual Shaughnessy Cup game. The regular season finale on Halloween will feature the defending Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or in a “Residence Game” matinee at Molson Stadium.
<!–[if !supportEmptyParas]–><!–[endif]–> With files from Earl Zuckerman.
For more info, visit the team page at www.mcgill.ca/athletics/varsitysports/