We're hopping all over Ontario to preview the CIS football season. Presenting: the Waterloo Warriors.
Players to watch: DB Richard Boonstra, WR Sean Cowie, OL Evan Faulkner, DE Adam Kania, DL Darren Kisinger, QB Evan Martin
Head coach: Dennis McPhee (1st season; 3rd in CIS)
Co-ordinators: Joe Paopao (offensive), Marshall Bingeman (offensive line), McPhee (defensive)
Last league title: 1999
Big ones: Sept. 3 at Toronto, Sept. 22 vs. Laurier, Sept. 29 vs. Guelph
On the web: athletics.uwaterloo.ca, waterloowarriorfootball.com
Strengths: Walsh got a taste of quarterback last season and inherits a good receiver in Cowie. The Warriors have experience on the defensive line.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Stars Jon Morbey and Chris Best graduated, leaving big holes at quarterback and left tackle, two positions that have to be immutables. The Warriors also lost their two best defensive backs, meaning there's inexperience on both sides of the ball.
Kingston native Steve Campbell and the 300-lb. Faulkner provide some size up front and the Warriors should improve their blocking now that Bingeman, a highly regarded assistant who filed as interim coach last season, is dedicated to coaching the linemen. That will buy time for Walsh, who had his moments filling in for Morbey last season, to have the game slow down for him.
Cowie put up numbers last season (661 yards on 45 catches) and Dustin Zender contributed as a rookie last season; 6-foot-3, 200-lb. Ross Graham is a name to file away for future reference. Will Oud is pencilled in as the starting tailback. Keenan Smith, a 240-lb. fullback from that noted football mecca of Columbus, Ohio (but Canadian by birth), demands keeping tabs on. Last but not least, there's the question of how well Paopao's experience in the CFL is going to transfer over to the university game.
McPhee's background is on this side of the ball and the unit he's inherited was by default the pride of the team last season, giving up just one touchdown in two of the team's three victories. It also had some low points, such as giving up 350 yards on the ground to Windsor, or more than 500 total yards against Toronto. Having Kania and Kisinger should help the Warriors get a push up front and let Everest, their best linebacker, fly to the ball.
By the looks of it, McPhee seems to be emphasizing shoring up Waterloo's secondary. CFL hall of famer Don Sutherin has been in as a guest coach and much of Waterloo's recruiting effort went toward this area. Boonstra will get some OUA all-star consideration at season's end.
The team's general struggles in 2006 seemed to be reflected in the individual totals for their kickers: Ian Nichol was 3-for-11 on field goals and didn't make a kick longer than 27 yards. Jason Cook was second-last in the OUA with a 33.9-yard punting average. Both return and have plenty of room for improvement. Oud as well as Justin Andrushko and Nathan Zettler, both second-year players, have experience as returners.
Those three wins last season came by one point (helped by a last-second pass interference call in the end zone), three points (against the U of T, who lost to everyone) and York (who lost to everyone but U of T). With Morbey, leading rusher Travis Gellatly and D-backs Andrew Bieronski and Drew Haynes, Waterloo has a lot to patch up this season.
The upshot is that the Warriors have improved the coaching staff with McPhee, Paopao and help from Sutherin. Bingeman is a good assistant and Chris Triantifilou, who resigned as the head man midway last season to take a higher-ranking position in the UW athletic department, remains on staff. Waterloo won't lose any games due to the coaches' lack of know-how. Trouble is, coaches just try not to lose games, players win them and it's going to take a while to raise the overall talent. Give them some time and don't put too much stock in whether they match last season's 3-5 mark.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.