Previewing the '07 CIS football season is taking over our life... anyway, here's a look at the Toronto Varsity Blues.
In '06: 0-8
Players to watch: KR Matthew D'Souza, DE Michael Goncalves, QB David Hamilton, WR Cory Kennedy, DB George Polyzois, RB-WR Mark Stinson, K-P Joe Valtellini
Coach: Steve Howlett (5th season)
Co-ordinators: Dan Crifo (offensive), Joe Rumolo (defensive), Keith Castello (special teams)
Last league title: 1992
Big ones: Sept. 3 vs. Waterloo, Sept. 29 at York
On the web: varsityblues.ca, varsitycentre.ca
Strengths: No matter how bad it's got, the Blues always have some skill position talent, and Hamilton and converted QB Stinson provide a touchdown threat.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Forty-one games without a victory does kind of speak for itself. Confidence is everything and there have been more than a few occasions over the past few years when the Blues were right in it and had no idea of how to win a game. One of these days, it will change.
Hamilton, the fourth-year quarterback, at least is starting this season with some familiar faces around him, since Kennedy (493 yards receiving) and Stinson (405 receiving, 143 rushing) return. The Blues due have some experience on the line in centre David Scott-McDowell and guard Josh Armstrong. The reality is that this is a team that has to rely on first- and second-year players more than most, which often leads to mistakes brought on by inexperience.
Goncalves, who was a late-round pick of the Hamilton Ticats, is probably the best player on a group that allowed that second-most yards in the country last season. Howlett, who's from the Ottawa region, reaching into his old stamping ground for a couple of highly touted defensive recruits, D-backs Kyle Kennedy (Cory's brother) from the Ottawa Sooners and Willie Sharpe of Renfrew. Kevin Asare, formerly at York, could end up as the safety.
D'Souza set an OUA record for most kick-return yards last season with 729 and it wasn't just because the Blues were fielding so many kickoffs -- he had a very good 23.5-yard average. Polyzois also returned kicks in '06. Valtellini, a fifth-year senior, handles the punting and field goals. One issue that a program such as the U of T can have is how much the starters have to play on special teams; it can contribute to the team fading in the second half. Kyle Kennedy thrived as a return man with the Ottawa Sooners in '06.
At ths point, anyone with a heart is pulling for the U of T to win one soon and avoid going into the record books for the longest losing streak in CIAU/CIS history (the record-breaker is the Western game on Oct. 13). Waterloo, whom it plays in the first game at the Varsity Centre on Sept. 3, is rumoured to be much improved, but the Blues are going into that game with the better quarterback and without an overhauled coaching staff like the Warriors'.
The other best bet is the Sept. 29 Red & Blue Bowl vs. York, by process of elimination.
Yes, that's tugging at straws a bit, but try to appreciate Howlett's program is up against it in almost every conceivable way. Recruiting is tough when faced with poor facilities, few fans, high admission standards and the reality Toronto probably has the highest cost-of-living for students, which crosses the Blues off the list of many players from average middle-class backgrounds, a description which applies to most football players. (It's not a rich-kid game.) By all accounts, the new Varsity Centre is a jewel, and hopefully that will help bring in and retain more talented players, but the U of T is going to need more than that to be relevant again.