Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CIS Countdown #24: York Lions

Fast facts: First-year York coach Mike McLean, whose one-word résumé would be "winner," is trying to turn around a program that has resumed second-fiddle status. The Lions were 1-7 in 2007, marking the fifth straight season where they failed to improve on their previous season's record, which hastened a change. This will be a transitional year, but they do have an experienced QB, as Bart Zemanek, who's less than 1,000 yards away from becoming the most prolific passer in school history, has come back for a master's degree. York has 13 starters back, which is more than in past seasons.

Coach: Mike McLean. McLean, who's in his mid-40s, earned rave reviews for helping shape Saint Mary's defence into the best in the country this year, and as you probably know, he guided the Edmonton Huskies to back-to-back Canadian junior titles. Edmonton was 0-9 the season before he took over there, so he knows from reclamation projects. 

McLean has inherited some talent in his area his speciality, considering the Lions defence managed to stay mid-pack in the OUA yards-per-rush and yards-per-pass allowed last season despite being on the field way too much.

Co-ordinators: Beau Mirau, offence, McLean, defence. Mirau, who will also have the assistant head coach tag, was also on McLean's staff in Edmonton.

Undergraduate enrolment: 39,100

Alumni in the CFL: Argos RBs Andre Durie and Jeff Johnson, Lions DE Ricky Foley

Famous non-football alumni: Federal finance minister Jim Flaherty; actress Rachel McAdams; Joel Cohen, co-executive producer of The Simpsons; Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies.

Three-year record: 5-19

2007 units ranking: 26th on O, 25th on D

Key losses: WR Steven Hughes (2007 first-team OUA all-star, reportedly transferred to Ottawa); S Robin Legault; DB Jared Corbin, DL Sean Simms, OT David Gauer, QB Mike Crabtree, LB-ST Brian Zuzek

Returning starters: 5 offence — RB Jason Marshall, OLs Boris Radulovic, Patrick Assinck, Bryan Blackmore and Mike Connelly; 8 defence — DB-PR Jerome Walker, DL David Mills, DLs Stephen Rykov, Paul Fenech and Nigel Alleyne-Orange; LB Anthony Tombler, and DBs Chris Russell, DB Adrian Ferenc

Players to watch: Undersized LB Aaron Adusei was the Lions' leading tackler as a true freshman in 2007, while Walker also emerged as a capable punt returner in addition to his defensive duties.

The offence without Hughes will need a playmaker; Marshall did have the team's longest play from scrimmage last season, a 77-yard TD catch. Zemanek, who played in a semi-pro league in Finland in 2007, has 4,379 career passing yards, putting him within range of late-'90s standout Billy Barbosa's school mark

For future reference: QB Nick Coutu, out of Niagara Falls, is York's most ballyhooed recruit. He won a championship last fall with his high school team, Sir Winston Churchill, and Mirau main building block in the reconstruction of the Lions offence.

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 1 Windsor
Sept. 6 @ Ottawa
Sept. 13 @ Toronto
Sept. 20 Western
Sept. 27 @ McMaster
Oct. 4 Queen's
Oct. 11 @ Guelph
Oct. 18 Laurier

The Lions will miss Waterloo in the OUA's schedule rotation.

Final analysis: Let's be quite honest, York is Team X of the OUA, but the program is a blank slate for McLean to inject a little Alberta attitude into the program. York will probably show more progress on D this year; they could have a group who won't be easy to get anything off of, and might look at winning as a nice if not necessary adjunct to leaving the opposing offence with some bumps and bruises.

(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece.)

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