In our continuing effort to eliminate Eastern bias within our lifetime, we're working West to East to preview the 2007 CIS football season. Presenting: The Calgary Dinos.
In '06: 2-6, missed playoffs
Players to watch: LB Andrea Bonaventura, DL Tim Burris, DL Josh MacDonald, LB Chase Moore, SB K.C. Prince, RB Anthony Woodson
Head coach: Blake Nill (2nd season at Calgary, 10th overall)
Co-ordinators: Greg Vavra (offensive), John Stevens (defensive)
Last league title: 1995
Big ones: Sept. 29 vs. Alberta, Oct. 6 at Regina, Oct. 26 vs. UBC
On the web: godinos.com
Strengths: For one, they're stronger. Much of the pre-season talk surrounding the Dinos revolved around the off-season training program Nill installed to bulk up his team, which seems to draw more 18- and 19-year-old rookies straight out of high school, rather than junior football recruits who are in their 20s. It should also reduce the injuries that reduced Calgary to a M*A*S*H unit toward the end last season.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Likely starting QB Casey Brown, an American, has never played a down of 12-man, wide-field Canadian football (although he will get to play an exhibition game vs. Alberta prior to the opener). Accounting for all that space and that extra defender can make it chaotic for a passer. Calgary is also a very young team.
It's nice to picture what Nill will have in 2009 when Woodson will be in his fourth season, star QB Dalin Tollestrup is back from a two-year Mormon mission and there will likely be a good offensive line to block for them. Anthony Woodson -- his dad, of the same name, played for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the '80s -- is an all-purpose tailback who's big enough, has speed and can contribute to the passing game. He gained 751 yards from scrimmage last season despite starting just half the games on a weak team.
Prince is the team's top receiver; it's tough to get an idea what to expect from Brown, who threw only one pass (which he did complete) last season at Santa Ana (Calif.) Junior College. The offensive line, which gave up 29 sacks last season despite blocking for a fast and agile quarterback, is a deeper group than it was a year ago, returning six players who have started games for the Dinos, including former Canada West all-star Tim O'Neill.
The Dinos are SMU West -- nosetackle Tim Burris, end Deji Oduwole and Bonaventura have each followed Nill out from Halifax. Along with Concordia transfer McDonald, they'll be looked to beef up the front seven. The force unit also includes the most aptly named player in the country, linebacker Chase Moore -- who naturally, led the Dinos in tackles last season.
The Dinos lost their best defensive back, five-year player Drew Carpenter, but the other four starters return. They will be pushed for playing time by the likes of Casey Woodley (another SMU transfer) and cornerback Juan Van Der Merwe, who made four interceptions a single game last fall playing junior football with the Vancouver Island Raiders, among others.
Aaron Ifield had a good rookie year as the field-goal kicker (14 of 16). He struggled with kickoff distance, ranking eighth in Canada West (which only has seven teams). Prince and fellow receiver Adam Bunz, among others, are candidates for the returner spots.
Nill seems to be doing what's necessary to pull the Dinos up from also-ran status -- add depth at each position, see to it that the players get physically stronger and keep his own backyard from being a happy hunting ground for other teams' recruiters. On the last count, he did draw two hometown talents, receivers Anthony Parker and Matt Little, to the U of C, and each should be fairly seasoned when Tollestrup returns in two years.
Calgary's being pegged as the program on the rise in Canada West. A .500 record and a return to the playoffs this season is doable. Calgary gets rebuilding Simon Fraser as one of its home-and-home teams and its single games against Alberta and UBC are both at home. The showdown against the Golden Bears also comes after a bye week.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.