Hope you left room in the trunk for a big bushel basket since it's almost apple-picking season in the bucolic Annapolis Valley... Presenting: the Acadia Axemen.
In '06: 5-3, beat Saint Mary's 32-24 in Loney Bowl, lost 57-10 to Laval in national semi-final
Players to watch: WR Matt Carter, KR-DB Najja Coley, RB Cale Inglis, QB Keith Lockwood, DB-K James Michener, S Elliott Richardson
Coach: Jeff Cummins (4th season)
Co-ordinators: Cummins (defensive), Josh Lambert (offensive)
Last league title: 2006
Big ones: Sept. 22 at McGill, Oct. 19 at Saint Mary's, Oct. 26 vs. St. Francis Xavier
On the web: ace.acadiau.ca/sports
Strengths: The offensive line is more or less back intact and Cummins has pretty literally spanned the continent to find replacements for the Chris Judd & Ivan Birungi show. Acadia is preaching balance on offence after being a little pass-heavy in the past.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Heavy turnover among the team's leaders has many people predicting a drop-off for the two-time Atlantic champs, since it lost a lot of experience. The defence had some big letdowns last season and has to replace its leader, linebacker Steve Faoro.
Cummins' idea of the Acadia Advantage is tapping into his California roots to restock the passing game. Keith Lockwood followed Chris Judd at a L.A.-area junior college and now he's won the starting job at Acadia, with Judd staying on as quarterbacks coach. Lockwood's going to face the learning curve all American QBs do when they adjust to the unique geometry of Canadian ball and having to account for an extra defender (note that Calgary's junior college transfer QB, Casey Brown, isn't starting), but it's probably smarter to go with the best athlete.
Carter was one of Canada's best No. 2 receivers complementing Hec Crighton Trophy finalist Birungi the past couple seasons. Among the pass catchers, A.J. Moskus, another Californian and a converted high school quarterback. Acadia might take it slow early on and try to run the ball until Lockwood settles in. The offensive line is all back and Inglis was an Atlantic all-star last season.
His literary namesake knew from thick books, but Acadia's James Michener had to learn a new playbook (sorry) in training camp after switching to from quarterback to defensive halfback. Having a player who's been around for a few seasons switch sides usually raises questions about the depth and overall skill at the group he's joining. Michener is joining a group that does have a veteran safety in Richardson.
The Axemen are a little deeper in the front seven. Five linebackers who've played significant minutes return to try and off-set the loss of Faoro. Do keep in mind this is a group that gave up 207 rushing yards to Saint Mary's Jacques Lumbala in the Loney Bowl and also gave up 42 and 57 points in games vs. Quebec teams.
The specialists have been pretty solid for the Axemen. Michener, who comes off as one of those all-around athlete types, was an all-Canadian pick as a punter and also handles kickoffs and field goals. Coley is the Axemen version of an "offensive defensive back." He had three kick-return TDs in '06, including two that earned him the most valuable player honours in the Loney Bowl win over Saint Mary's.
The Axemen have been on quite a roll, winning Atlantic conference titles in basketball and hockey to go along with back-to-back Jewett Trophies. That's bound to even out, so it might be worth noting that Acadia's winning margin in the conference final vs. SMU was furnished by having a punt and kickoff returned for TDs in the same game, which some teams never experience in a dozen seasons.
The Axemen did make out OK in the interlock, drawing Bishop's and McGill as their Quebec opponents. That might help them make it a race against Saint Mary's for the bye into the final that goes to the first-place team. A step back might come this season, but Cummins has a decent program.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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