Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CIS Countdown #6: Concordia Stingers

Fast facts: The Stingers' 2007 season must have done wonders for the sale of Antacid tablets in the west end of Montreal. Five of their nine games were decided by less than a touchdown, due to a combo of peaks-and-valley offence and solid defence. QB Liam Mahoney, who started the season as a punt returner, ended up being the CIS rookie of the year after being the leading quarterback rusher in the country. The Stingers were able to hang in with Laval from 2004-06, but they've slipped a bit since that season.

Coach: Gerry McGrath

Co-ordinators: McGrath, offence; Warren Craney, defence; Peter Regimbald, special teams

Enrolment: 38,809

Alumni in the CFL: Eskimos DB Sammy Okpro, Stampeders P Burke Dales, Blue Bombers LS Chris Cvetkovic

Famous non-football alumni: authors Nino Ricci and Mordecai Richler; Stuart McLean of Vinyl Cafe fame; musician Régine Chassagne, of Arcade Fire; former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray; Rosie Douglas, former prime minister of the Dominica.

Three-year record: 17-7

2007 unit rankings: 19th on offence, 10th on defence

Key losses: T Wayne Dauper, QB Robert MacKay, DB Sammy Okpro, SB Nick Scissons

Returning starters: 9 offence, 9 defence; kicker Rene Paredes also returns

Players to watch: The Stingers will probably try to get the most out of Mahoney's unique skills this year, possibly by employing more of an option look, although it's a tough offence to run against some of the QUFL's quick defences. (Back in 1998, a coach named Pat Sheahan employed the option to good effect with Sean Hoas when the Stingers made their only Vanier Cup trip.) Mahoney had almost as many yards rushing (608) as passing last season (681). Cedric Ferdinand, an Ottawa native, emerged from a three-way position battle to become the tailback last season.

One benefit of the CEGEP league is that newcomers aren't really rookies. Inside receiver Tony Testa, a newcomer from the St. Leonard Cougars, could help make up for the graduation of Scissons, although he's been battling a hamstring problem. Receivers Cory Watson and Arain Francois were also left home from last weekend's trip to Saskatchewan for an exhibition game due to injuries.

Here's Testa in action:

Defensively, LBs Nathan Agadzi and Cory Greenwood will have to be the team's impact players. Okpro won't be easily replaced on the back end; the secondary could be a weak spot.

For future reference: Every high school player who can lace up a pair of shoes seems to have his own highlight reel on YouTube, granted. Stingers rookie Christian Walcott, a defensive halfback from Toronto, looks like he could pack a wallop.

The Stingers recruiting class also includes QB Alex Radojcic, who was drafted by the OHL in hockey. Former Ottawa Sooner Jamie Pau has also come aboard.

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 5 Bishop's
Sept. 12 @ McGill
Sept. 20 Laval (RDS)
Sept. 28 @ Laval
Oct. 4 @ Montréal
Oct. 11 Mount Allison
Oct. 18 @ Bishop's
Oct. 25 Sherbrooke

The Stingers' home-and-homes are with Bishop's and Laval.

Final analysis: The diehards always seem to have a shovelful of dirt to throw on the Stingers, but their coaching, especially on defence and on special teams, is a good insurance policy against sliding too far down in the standings. Concordia is on the downswing from a cycle that peaked in '05-06.

The meaty part of the schedule, the back-to-backs with Laval and a matchup vs. Montréal, will either make or break Concordia. As for the 2008 season, where the 2-5 slots in the QUFL are fairly wide open, they will neither make nor break.

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

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