Previewing the '07 CIS football season is taking over our life... anyway, here's a look at the Laurier Golden Hawks.
In '06: 7-3, lost 32-14 to Ottawa in conference final
Players to watch: WR Andy Baechler, G Scott Evans, SLSH Dante Luciani, RB Ryan Lynch, LB Andy Maggiacomo, QB Ian Noble
Coach: Gary Jeffries (5th season)
Co-ordinators: Ryan Pyear (offensive), Rich VanMoerkerke (defensive)
Last league title: 2005
Big ones: Sept. 3 vs. McMaster, Sept. 8 vs. Windsor, Oct. 13 vs. Ottawa
On the web: laurierathletics.com
Strengths: Lynch and Luciani are each among the OUA's best at tailback and wideout respectively and Baecher is a big guy who can catch the ball in traffic. The Hawks have done a good job at having depth at all positions and getting younger players ready to play.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Noble is a first-time starter and there will be times where the game is moving like a New York minute for him. The Hawks also lost three CFL-drafted individual talents -- Jesse Alexander, Yannick Carter and Justin Phillips -- from a good defence.
The Hawks are as unsettled at quarterback as they've been in any season in a long while, going well back before Pyear's arrival in '01. The coaches at Laurier are typically good at managing roster turnover and Ian Noble got some reps last season, particularly in a home win over Western when starter Jamie Partington was knocked out. If Noble falters early, possible in Week 2 vs. Windsor's defence and its multiple looks, there might be some clamouring to play reserve pivots Vince Luciani and Ben Wilsack. The FieldTurf around the backup QB is always greener.
The Hawks typically give backup linemen a fair bit of playing time in games against lesser teams, so new blockers have less of a learning curve. Scott Evans is their best O-linemen and fullback Peter Quinnie is very capable. Dante Luciani's role as a slash player who will have to be played up, since a new quarterback might not have an easy time getting him the ball in space where he can make tacklers miss.
Linebackers Maggiocomo and Luke Pinder, along with Brent Hickey in the secondary, are the main holdovers on a group which tends to mesh well and blend in new players relatively seamlessly. The Hawks will probably have a fairly young group along the line, but it there's some good-sized guys waiting in the wings such as 300-lb. Mark Ellis and 275-lb. George Kourtesiotis. Another up-and-comer is cornerback Taurean Allen.
There's enough depth on the roster to provide for solid coverage and return teams. Chris Mamo is entering a second season of double duty as the kicker and punter; he was last in the OUA in the latter capacity last season. (Waterloo's punter, playing on the same field, was second-last, which tells you the bounce had gone out of the artificial turf at university stadium that's been replaced by a more modern surface.) Luciani and Dustin Heap are expected to be the main returners.
It's a little like that Seinfeld where Elaine Benes tells Jerry, "Something bad is going to happen to you, it has to," and Jerry, smugly, says, "No, I think I'm gonna be fine," with the Hawks. Any team that's won 37 games across the past four seasons is bound to hit a downswing.
The Hawks are well-insulated against the law of averages. The program has good coaching and football is the game at the small school (which isn't so small anymore), so there aren't glaring problems when it comes to facilities or fan and administrative support. Still, an off-year is in the offing eventually. No Western on the schedule and no killer road games, possibly save for Guelph over Thanksgiving, will probably keep the Hawks in the area of 6-2.
* (Actually, a lot of those bandwagonners in Massachusetts wouldn't figure that out, but that's another post.)
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