HOW huge is it that Mac returns every starter along the offensive and defensive lines?
WILL running back Jordan Kozina's return from a two-year peregrination on the rugby pitch power the Mac back into the OUA's top four? And will force of habit lead Kozina to yell "get it between the posts" the first time a Mac teammate is running toward the end zone?
HOW will they manage the lack of experience on the secondary?
IS rookie rush end Ben D'Aguilar, who is hoping to transfer to Arkansas, going to have a huge impact this season?
2008 recap and record — (4-5, 4-4.) After starting 0-3, the Marauders turned around their season beginning in the fourth game vs. Guelph, scoring 14 unanswered points in the final minutes to nab a 32-31 win. The comeback vs. the Gryphons and a soft second-half schedule helped the Marauders rally to earn their 11th consecutive playoff berth. QB Ryan Fantham had his moments as a first-year starter (1,708 yards, 13 TD, eight INTs) and started to develop a synergy with slotbacks Kevin D'Hollander (568 yards on 18.9 per catch) and Matthew Peressini (399 yards, 13.3). The defence improved enough to keep them in games, although it did give up 35 points to Queen's and 50 vs. Laurier. The greater concerns were problems with penalties (110.1 yards per game) and turnovers (24 lost fumbles and interceptions). After rallying to reach the playoffs, they bowed out with a shutout loss to the aforementioned Golden Hawks.
Setting up '09 — Any stab at what numbers Kozina will put up after two seasons playing with a white oblong ball is just spitballin'. He is a big back (210 lbs., 20 heavier than what he played at in 2005-06) who can break the long run. He is an upgrade, with all due respect to second-team OUA all-star Joey Nemet (759 yards, 5.8 per carry). Toss in Mac having 17 returning starters (counting the kicker) and the optimism around the program is understandable.
Returning the starting QB, Fantham, the two leading receivers and the entire O-line will do that for a team. It could be an open competition for the QB job, though, since Steve Sparks, Kyle Quinlan and Acadia transfer Brian Dowd all have CIS experience. Notwithstanding Ptaszek's creativity, only one QB can play at a time.
The 6-foot-5, 220-lb. D'Hollander and the small, shifty Peressini offer a contrast for defenders. Mac could use a receiving threat on the outside who will make defences play their halfbacks and safety back to help open up the field for intermediate-range passes. Fifth-year wideout Matt Giordano is back, but he averaged only 9.6 yards per catch last season.
Defensively, Mac needs to tighten up a pass defence which yielded more than 2,000 yards in '08. That probably means adding pressure, not coverage (the old Bob Mullen principle). Only five experienced DBs are in camp and the secondary is the last place where a team wants to be inexperienced. The front seven is much stronger. Defensive coordinator Greg Knox has eight experienced D-linemen. James Edwards, who came back after a spell on the B.C. Lions practice roster, is moving to linebacker with D'Aguilar lining up at rush end (as reported in the Hamilton Spectator).
Along with Edwards, the back eight is strengthened by linebacker Ryan Chmielewski, one of the OUA's best, plus cornerback Shane Beaton and halfback Byron Metcalfe. The D is probably a bigger question mark for Ptaszek than the O.
Mac could be somewhere between 3-5 and 5-3. It really depends on the strength of Guelph and Waterloo.
Returning starters — 9 offence, 7 defence
Stepping out — LB Simon Binder, FB Rob Mitchell, RB Uhonna Ihekwoaba, WRs Mike Bradwell and Andrew Ross, DBs Phil Mills and Kurt Morrison
Stepping up — QB Ryan Fantham, RBs Jordan Kozina and Joey Nemet, SBs Kevin D'Hollander and Matt Peressini, G Mike Hoy, T Justin Glover, DT Mike Wysocki, LB James Edwards, LB Ryan Chmielewski, DB Byron Metcalfe, CB Shane Beaton
Breakout performers — Might as well put wideout Mike DiCroce here. He was one of those do-everything high school players who tried his hand and foot at receiver, quarterback, safety, kicker and punter. Plus he can apparently jump over a bar set 67 inches off the ground. That skill must be incorporated into the game plan.
Future reference — DE Ben D'Aguilar, who was ticketed for Arkansas, highlights what is believed to be Ptaszek's best recruiting class D-backs Stephen Dennis and Cody Lynch could also see the field as rookies. Rookie running back Gary Spero ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.47 seconds) during Mac's physical testing.
Coach & coordinators — Coach Stefan Ptaszek (fourth season). Former QB Jon Behie, who is coaches the Marauders' passer, has added offensive coordinator duties. Defensive coordinator Greg Knox (third season) and special teams coordinator Larry Guarascia (ninth) return.
Enrolment — 24,400 full- and part-time
Stadium/atmosphere — The $23-million Ron Joyce Stadium might be the model facility for CIS football. It's an optimal size with 5,000 seats all on one side of the stadium (which helps amplify crowd noise). State-of-the-art is an overused term, but it fights. It also has underground parking and a heated field, so those are some nice creature comforts.
Off-the-field factors — The addition of former CFL president Jeff Giles as the school could light a fire under a program which played in five consecutive Yates Cups from 2000-04. Ptaszek, at age 38, is also one of the country's youngest head coaches. He has a good many years to build a program.
Alumni in CFL — Alouettes DE Jeff Robertshaw, Argonauts WR Mike Bradwell, Argonauts LB Jason Pottinger, Blue Bombers OL Ryan Donnelly, Eskimos RB Jesse Lumsden, Eskimos OL Kyle Koch, Lions OL Andrew Jones, Lions DL James Edwards, Lions S Jason Aragki, Tiger-Cats RB Andre Sadeghian, Tiger-Cats LB-ST Ray Mariuz,
From last season's preview — "Their defence, and more specifically their secondary, that will dictate the success of this Marauders team. They're not yet Yates Cup contender, however, in OUA playoffs, really anything can happen." — Mike Radoslav
Stock up or stock down — Up.
Sunday, Sept. 7 vs. Waterloo, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 12 at Queen's, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19 at York, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 26 vs. Laurier, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 at Western, 2 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 8 vs. U of T, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 at Windsor, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 vs. Guelph, 1 p.m.