The Canadian university football season is kicking off, and Out of Left Field is here to provide a look at all 27 CIS teams. Presenting: the York Lions.
In '06: 1-7, missed playoffs
Players to watch: SLSH Kevin Walsh, QB Mike Crabtree, LB-ST Jared Corbin, OT David Gauer, DB-P Robin Legault, DE Sean Simms
Coach: Andy McEvoy (first season; 2nd as CIS head coach)
Co-ordinators: Tom Denison (offensive), Clifford Ivory (defensive)
Last league title: n/a
Big ones: Sept. 8 at Waterloo, Sept. 15 vs. Guelph, Sept. 29 vs. U of T (Red & Blue Bowl)
On the web: sport.yorku.ca
Strengths: The Lions will have an experienced QB throwing to three receivers who each caught at least 30 passes in 2006. Defensively, McEvoy and first-time co-ordinator Ivory, the former Argos star, believe they have "good team speed" and some individual talent with Simms, Corbin and Legault.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Optimism abounds, but McEvoy notes he's "not naive" about entering the season with 15 new starters on offence and defence, plus a new placekicker. "Right now half our team is first- or second-year players. At the end of the day, we're still young, but we'll work hard, get everyone to buy in and fly around." The lack of experience will be tough to overcome in the short run.
Crabtree, who started out with the Ottawa Gee-Gees, might end up starting over Bart Zemanek, a four-year starter. McEvoy (a former Gee-Gees passer in his own right) says Crabtree, who was slowed by an ankle injury in '06, has "dropped weight, and come in stronger and faster." With new starters along the line and in the backfield, the Lions might end up having to be a bit pass-heavy early on. Walsh and receivers Steven Hughes and Cameron Worsley should see a lot of passes; each caught at least 30 last season. Worth noting: Hughes, from Notre Dame High in Ottawa, was the only one of that trio to have catch over 40 yards.
Walsh, an OUA all-star as a receiver and return man, will be a slash player after totalling 1,239 all-purpose yards as a freshman. "It's not complicated," McEvoy says. "We need to get him the ball as often as possible. I know when we had Andre Durie and I didn't get him the ball 30 times (in a game), people were looking at me funny."
The most important newcomer is the co-ordinator, Ivory, the former Argonauts star cornerback. "First and foremost, he's a teacher," says McEvoy, who coached the defence last season. "It's not just that he's been in the pros (NFL and CFL), but he really gets the kids' attention when he talks." York's defence was a bright spot last season, often hanging tough for two, 2 1/2 quarters against the likes of Laurier and Queen's before the strain of being on the field so much took over.
Simms will be important in York's 3-4 defence and there's experience in the secondary with Legault, David Mills and Chris Russell. One key recruit York has identified is Aaron Adusei, who was an all-state linebacker two years ago in Viriginia. He played his final high season at 5-foot-10, 195 lbs., which suggest he could eventually be at home on the wider Canadian field.
Walsh gives York a return threat and Corbin was named an OUA all-star as a rush/cover player last season. Legault did the punting last season, while McEvoy says he's thrown the competition for the placekicking job wide open.
Improving the team's depth would mean fewer starters have to double up on the coverage teams and become fatigued late in games. Last season, York was beating Queen's in the fourth quarter when it gave up a 67-yard punt return that turned the game around.
So far, McEvoy, the former Gee-Gees quarterback and coach, says he's "very optimistic, very happy with the work ethic the players have shown... trying to build a concept of the team as one." The hope here is the Lions can pull it off, since Canadian university football could really stand to have at least one competitive program in the country's most influential media market. That could be wishful thinking, but there's not enough of that in the world these days.
Having two young co-ordinators in Denison and Ivory should ideally help improve the attitude around the program. As players, both were known for carrying themselves with a confidence that touched the people around them. Keep an eye on how competitive the Lions are during the final three weeks vs. Western, Mac and Laurier. If the scores are relatively close, it would suggest the rebuilding effort is starting to take.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to email@example.com.