The Quebec and Atlantic conferences kick off this week, so we better get cracking. Presenting: the Concordia Stingers.
In '06: 9-3, lost 28-12 to Laval in conference final
Players to watch: LB Nathan Agadzi, T Wayne Dauper, LB Cory Greenwood, DB Sammy Okpro, DL William Miller, SB Nick Scissons (of Ottawa)
Head coach: Gerry McGrath
Co-ordinators: McGrath (offensive), Warren Craney (defensive), Peter Regimbald (special teams)
Last league title: 1998 (Ontario-Quebec conference)
Big ones: Sept. 22 at Saint Mary's, Oct. 27 vs. Laval
On the web: stingers.ca
Strengths: Defence is Con U's calling card, much like the rest of the Quebec league. With the notable exception of all-everything Patrick Donovan the bulk of the group which finished sixth in the CIS in defence last season (and fourth vs. the run) has returned. That should buy the Stingers some time to get first-year starting QB Robert Mackay settled.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... A new starting quarterback and likely new starter at tailback might lead to some early struggles on offence. After having nearly no worries in the kicking game for the past couple seasons, the Stingers have to replace two all-Canadians.
McGrath made sure to give Mackay some playing time in most games last season, getting him ready to take over from standout Scott Syvret this season. Freshman Liam Mahoney is waiting in the wings, but an educated guess is that he's probably a year away from being ready.
The Stingers have received a double whammy at the skill positions since leading rusher Andrew Hamilton has stuck with the Montreal Alouettes, but word is they have more speed at the receiver spots. Cedric Ferdinand of Ottawa is one three starting tailback candidates.
That could be taken as a reference to all-purpose wideout Marc Champagnie, a third-year player. Champagnie, who played running back in high school (Toronto media take note -- he was a Metro Bowl MVP), averaged nearly 19 yards per touch and also had a 69-yard punt return touchdown last season. Ottawa native Nick Scissons, who was the Quebec nominee for the Russ Jackson Award last season, is back for a fifth season.
There's no Donovan at the heart of Concordia's defence for the first time in several seasons -- Patrick, the younger of the two brothers who combined for consecutive CIS defensive player of the year awards, has graduated. That and the loss of tackle Mark Kang does raise questions about leadership and chemistry on this side of the ball, but Okpro is on a very short list of the best defensive halfs in the country, plus there's a strong presence from The 613 in weakside linebacker Cory Greenwood of Kingston and corner Sylvester Sarfo, each of whom are projected to be impact players.
No team had it as good in the kicking game as the Stingers did the past few years with all-Canadian kicker Warren Kean and punter Mike Renaud. Both have graduated and, obviously, are not easily replaceable. Rene Paredes, out of John Abbott College, is pencilled in to handle both duties. Champagnie is a bit unproven at receiver, but could provide a threat in the return game. The Stingers are deep on defence, so covering kicks should not be a problem.
(Hometown Breakdown note: Backup safety Bryan Charleau, a graduate of the Simcoe Sabres, saw quite a bit of time on special teams last season.)
The irony to the common refrain that the Stingers would have a couple Vanier appearances on their C.V. if it wasn't for Laval is that McGrath seemingly needed the Rouge et Or to build up his program. The Stingers haven't played a game that counted in the standings vs. an Ontario team since Oct. 28, 2000, but look at how many Ontario hometowns dot the roster. The salespitch is pretty simple: Playing against in the country's No. 1 program and so many players from Quebec's fecund grass-roots football culture is a great platform for impressing CFL scouts.
The Stingers are a near sure bet to finish near the top of the Quebec conference again. Basically, the season comes down to being able to beat Laval, since that will be needed to keep the momentum going in the program.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.