Thursday, August 28, 2008

CIS Countdown #4: Saint Mary's Huskies

Fast facts: Talk about a Faustian compact of sorts. The Huskies had a dream season in 2007, shutting down Laval in a 24-2 pasting in the Uteck Bowl. In that game, though, Hec Crighton Trophy-winning quarterback Erik Glavic sustained a serious knee injury, which hurt the Huskies' chances vs. Manitoba in the Vanier Cup. Glavic's status for the start of the season is still uncertain. Left-hander Ted Abraham is a viable option, so SMU not in such a huge a predicament at QB. The graduation of their best lineman, right tackle Isaac Robinson, also leaves a hole to be filled, but Saint Mary's for the most part has a good track record with recruiting and developing offensive linemen.

On the other side of the ball, the Huskies have a new co-ordinator, Danny Laramee, who oversaw the No. 1- and No. 3-ranked defences in the CIS the past two seasons at Ottawa. Cornerback Joel Lipinski, a former all-Canadian in Regina, should help solidify the secondary. Saint Mary's probably will have some new names to learn, since last year's team had a lot of fourth-year players whose status was much-discussed over the summer, but they have enough depth to be a force by November.

Coach: Steve Sumarah, third season. Sumarah, to an extent, followed the same path as Laurier coach Gary Jeffries, although in his case it involves two AUS schools. This is Sumarah's 24th season in the AUS as a player or coach, and judging from afar, he's fairly enconsced in Halifax, which is his hometown.

Co-ordinators: Steve Sumurah, offence; Danny Laramee, defence. Laramee, who was previously at Ottawa, takes over for Mike McLean, the first-year coach at York. There's more on the SMU/Ottawa connection a few paragraphs down.

Enrolment: 8,800

Alumni in the CFL: Eskimos LB Tim St. Pierre, 'Riders OL Steve Morley, Blue Bombers DB Marc Beswick, Als slotback Dave Stala

Famous non-football alumni: CBC Sports commentator Steve Armitage (who was a Huskies quarterback in the 1960s); DaimlerChrysler Canada CEO Steve Landry; Joseph Phillip Kennedy, Chief Justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court

Three-year record: 14-9

2007 units ranking: 1st on offence, 9th on defence

Key losses: LB Tim St. Pierre, DB Tyrone Roue, DB Marc Beswick, RB Jacques Lumbala, FB Tyler Schussler, RT Isaac Robinson,

Returnees: Saint Mary's is still early enough in training camp that coaches haven't pinned down who's starting, but we can tell you they have 30 offensive and 28 defensive players — and one kicker — back from last season's team.

Players to watch: Obviously, Glavic has to be first mentioned, in terms of his talent and his well-being. He's not the only Huskie from the Toronto area who's had to get over a knee injury, though. Tailback Glen Downs, who was a high school star at Burlington Central, has worked his way from injury and could end up in the thick of a fight to become the featured back. Jonathan Shreve is a big back, while Craig Leger, a Nova Scotia native, also had his moments in spot duty last season. Allister Blair, who was the No. 2 back last season, hasn't gone anywhere.

Sumarah has used a tailback platoon before, going back to Luis Perez and Dean Jones on the 1999-2001 teams. Among the receivers, slotbacks Darcy Brown and Ryean Warburton, as well as wideout Fraser O'Neill, each have eligibility remaining (it seems best to hedge a little until more info comes about SMU early next week).

Defence might be SMU's strong suit. Lipinski is one of three transfer defensive backs who could help make up for the loss of Beswick and Roue, a halfback, in the secondary. Jeff Zelinski is also a standout cornerback, while Saleem Borhot nailed down the safety spot and had a 102-yard interception-return touchdown last season . While St. Pierre tended to get the spotlight, middle linebacker Andrew King was also vital in the second level of SMU's defence.

For future reference: Saint Mary's had quite the list of newcomers lined up. Quarterback Jack Creighton, who led his Port Colborne, Ont., high school team to a regional championship, could develop into a dual-threat quarterback in the Glavic mold.

Incidentally, Saint Mary's has plenty of Ottawa connections, which might be noteworthy if they end up in a semi-final bowl game vs. the Gee-Gees. Former uOttawa defensive backs Steven Watts and Rainier August are reportedly transferring in to play for their former co-ordinator, Laramee. Their recruiting class, which granted, could be somewhat in flux, includes tackle J.C. Noel and defenders Carson Dowds and Morille Njau, who played junior football in the Ottawa area.

(Just to take it one step farther, Sumarah was a guest coach during a few Ottawa Renegades training camps.)

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 5 Acadia
Sept. 13 @ Bishop's
Sept. 19 Mount Allison
Sept. 27 @ Acadia (Eastlink)
Oct. 4 @ St. FX (Eastlink)
Oct. 11 Montreal (Eastlink)
Oct. 18 Mount Allison (Eastlink)
Oct. 24 St. FX

Final analysis: Saint Mary's isn't competing for a conference title, it's competing for a national championship. Their depth should be enough to overcome any losses to graduation and come out of the Atlantic conference again. Keep an eye on how they handle their trip to Bishop's in the second week of their season, since one would think that would go a long way toward helping them gell.

The Huskies, who won Vanier Cups in 2001 and '02, seem on course for a bowl matchup vs. Ottawa, which won in 2000. The two teams have never met in a post-season game, although there's already a little history between them.

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

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