We're hopping around Southern Ontario to preview the Canadian university football season. Presenting: the Windsor Lancers.
In '06: 6-3, lost 20-16 to Western in OUA quarter-final
Players to watch: LB John Celestino, CB Colin Dixon, QB-P Dan Lumley, WR Glenn MacKay, LT Matt Morencie, DT Kyle Sleightholm, RB Daryl Stephenson
Head coach: Mike Morencie (9th season)
Co-ordinators: Scott Fawcett (offence), Morencie (defence), Brian Taffinder (special teams)
Last league title: 1975 (co-champions)
On the web: golancers.ca
Big ones: Sept. 8 at Laurier, Sept. 29 at Western, Oct. 20 at Ottawa
Strengths: Fourteen starters return to a team which had a 6-2 regular season before a mud bowl playoff loss to rival Western. The Lancers have the Hec Crighton-winning tailback and finished third nationally against the run last season.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... The Lancers don't have the biggest offensive line and sometimes struggled to get a push vs. the better OUA defences last season. Replacing guys on the defence such as Sasha Glavic, Bill Moysiuk and Alan Weekes won't be easy.
There's more to the Lancers offence than Stephenson, who's shooting for a fourth straight 1,000-yard season. Lumley, who's mobile and can throw deep, averaged 9.75 yards per pass and was sacked just seven times as a first-year starter. He should have more command of the offence.
MacKay averaged 24 yards a catch last season and nine of his 32 catches went for touchdowns. Mike Harrington came on a bit toward the end of his rookie season and another receiving candidate is Ryan Thompson, who played in several Metro Bowls with the Pickering Trojans.
Windsor typically doesn't open the throttle any more than it has to; most of their long bombs come off play action. They prefer not to risk turnovers (they lost only 11 fumbles or interceptions in 2006, a league low by far). Stephenson hasn't put up eye-popping numbers vs. top teams, but he's a straight-ahead runner who doesn't seem to leave the Lancers in too many second-and-nines. Windsor is a left-handed running team: Matt Morencie has been moved to left tackle after playing slotback in '06, and the team's best returning lineman, Anthony Rimac, is apparently going to be the left guard.
Windsor's defence is 32 flavours, all vanilla. Their M.O. seems to be to try and slow up the opposing quarterback with a lot of extra mental fat by substituting frequently and giving a lot of different looks and formations, but playing straight bend-but-don't-break defence. It can lead to a lot of confusion. Last season, Mac was the only team to complete 50 per cent of its attempts against the Lancers without having to throw more than 35 times; the only teams who did were those who were playing catch-up.
The front seven, led by the 6-foot-4, 295-lb. Sleightholm and Celestino at inside linebacker, is the focal group. Dixon, along with Kanata native Marc Leduc and fellow senior Oliver Clovis, give the Lancers experience in the secondary.
Veteran Kevin Reider, who was 14-of-21 (long of 44 yards) on field goals last year, returns for a fifth year. Lumley, the quarterback, does the punting, which gives the Lancers the threat of a fake (he also recovered one of his own kicks in a big win over Laurier in the regular-season finale). Morencie said the emphasis in camp will be to find capable return men.
That 6-2 conference record was not an anomaly. Windsor, humoured for so long by the rest of the conference (especially those in and around London), has become respectable in football and just won its first championship in several years in the other marquee CIS sport, men's basketball. Sports have been put on the front burner at a relatively young university that's coming into its own. It's quite something what can happen when the coaches and players know there are standards.
Last season's record will be hard to match with road games vs. Laurier, Western and Ottawa. Ultimately, with Stephenson being surrounded by some vets (though a fifth year is possible), is a season for the Lancers to take a shot at the league's traditionally strong teams. There's no harm in taking the Lancers to be playing in the second week of November for the first time since the 1970s.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.