Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CIS Countdown #11: Acadia Axemen

Fast facts: Acadia's two-year run as Atlantic conference champions, its first titles in football since the Larry Jusdanis era in the mid-'90s, ended fairly decisively with a a 21-point loss to St. FX in the AUS semi-final last November. The pass-happy Axemen, whose QB Keith Lockwood was one of only two CIS pivots to attempt more than 300 passes in the regular season last season, were still potent offensively, but lacked a little giddy-up in their first season without two-time Hec Crighton nominee Ivan Birungi (now at Ottawa). Most of last season's core group on offence returns, older and -- hopefully for Acadia -- wiser. Defensively, Acadia returns regulars such as CB-KR Najja Coley, but their best defensive back, Elliott Richardson, is rehabbing from an arm injury and might not be 100% game-ready by the opener on Sept. 5.

Coach: Jeff Cummins, fifth season. The Torrance, Calif., native, who played for the Oregon Ducks (before they had Nike CEO Phil Knight's chequebook splashed all over them) and went on to a long carer in the CFL, has brought a different look to Acadia, turning to a home state for players such as Lockwood, but bringing in a pass-oriented spread scheme.

Co-ordinators: Cummins handles the defence; Josh Lambert returns as offensive co-ordinator.

Enrolment: 2,760 undergraduate

Alumni in the CFL: Stampeders OL Godfrey Ellis

Famous non-football alumni: Federal cabinet minister Peter MacKay; TSN personality Brian Heaney (the school's athletic director); St. FX basketball coach Steve Konchalski; LPGA player Lorie Kane

Three-year record: 13-11

2007 unit rankings: 18th on offence, 22nd on defence

Key losses: FB Chris Debenedet, DT Trumaine Thomas and DE Sean Knox were the lone fifth-year Axemen in 2007. There was a conspicuous lack of any mention of leading receiver Douglas Fryer in pre-season reports.

Returning starters: Acadia returns five offensive linemen, quarterback and its two main touchdown threats on offence. The defence might have to break out the HELLO MY NAME IS stickers for the first few weeks. The secondary does have some returnees in Coley, James Michener and Matt Philbrick, who lost his 2007 season to injuries.

Players to watch: Wideout Matt Carter caught a team-high 45 passes last season and his recent blogging efforts helped us out, so obviously all objectivity should be cast aside and you should root for him to make all-Canadian. Acadia's other touchdown threat, running back Cale Inglis, also returns. The Axemen also got a big lift when left tackle Adam Rogers came back from the CFL for his final season.

Michener bears watching, since he's usually exciting in whatever capacity he's used in -- defensive back, quarterback, kicker and punter, he's tried them all.

For future reference: As you can see from the list of recruits on the Acadia Athletics website, the Axemen have a pipeline into Central Ontario, where they believe they found a quarterback of the future in 6-foot-3, 195-lb. Kyle Graves of Barrie, comes advertised as "multi-talented." Another rookie from Barrie who might catch on is DT Wade Conrad.

Jordan Linnen, of Surrey, B.C., might as well have come in with the ATH (athlete) designation, since he could ultimately end up contributing on offence and defence. The newbies on D include rush end Jake Thomas (brother of former Acadia standout Josh Thomas) and linebacker Ed McNally, a relative of former Axemen coach Dan McNally.

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 5 @ Saint Mary's
Sept. 13 Laval (Eastlink)
Sept. 20 @ St. FX
Sept. 27 Saint Mary's
Oct. 4 Mount Allison
Oct. 11 @ Sherbrooke
Oct. 18 St FX
Oct. 25 @ Mount Allison

Final analysis: Having Sherbrooke on the road and Laval at home will make it tough for Acadia to finish .500 and get home field for the AUS semi-final, let alone compete for first place.

St. FX seems to have supplanted Acadia for the time being for No. 2 in the Atlantic University Sport pecking order, although the Axemen could be back in 2009. The tough schedule and the sketchy defence suggest they could be in tough this fall.

(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece, Duane Rollins.)

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