WILL potential translate into performance and equal playoffs?
WHAT can be read into the fact that their two wins in '08 didn't not include one over a Toronto school?
HOW much will junior college all-American Joe Surgenor (awesome name) improve the pass rush?
CAN UW's all-time leading receiver, Sean Cowie, look forward to drawing double coverage since Josh Svec has headed down Hwy. 401 to Western?
2008 recap and record — (2-6). There were some bright spots despite the young Warriors finishing out of the playoffs, as they have every season since the OUA adopted its six-team playoff format. Middle linebacker Jordan Verdone, at all of 18 years old, was OUA rookie of the year. Evan Martin emerged as the starting QB, passing for 1,564 yards. Waterloo upped its offensive production by almost 90 yards per game in 2008 over 2007, largely by passing on almost every down (the second most pass-happy team in the country by Rob Pettapiece's reckoning). Defensively, their youth caught up with them, as they yielded an OUA-high average of 486 yards and were one of only two teams to give up 20 or more TD passes.
Setting up '09 — One big jump-out when looking over the OUA schedule from this season to last is that Waterloo's bye is Western instead of York. If the Warriors repeat their wins over McMaster and Windsor and get Ws vs. the two teams in the GTA, suddenly they become a 4-4 playoff team.
To get there, they will have to protect the passer better (30 sacks allowed in '08) and give senior QB Evan Martin more time. Like other brainiac schools south of the border (Rice, Tulsa, Northwestern), Waterloo has gone to a spread attack. That requires a certain kind of athlete, light, agile linemen who can block in space and some slippery receivers who can turn short passes into longer gains. Someone else
Defensively, Waterloo probably has a simple mantra: Get faster. Verdone and Nicholson, who's listed as a strong safety, help shore up the run defence but the OUA is a passing league. When you combine interceptions and sacks into one category, Waterloo had only 22, second-fewest in the OUA. It takes a lot of pieces to remedy that, but Joe Surgenor would appear to be a big one after being a NJCAA third-team all-American last season.
Returning starters — 9 offence, 10 defence
Stepping out — RB Will Oud, WR Josh Svec, RT Martin Dedys, DL Ryan Viby
Stepping up — QB Evan Martin, WR Sean Cowie, LB-DE Joe Surgenor, MLB Jordan Verdone, SS Mitch Nicholson, DB-KR Patrick McGarry,
Breakout performers — Tailback Steve Lagace, a Burlington native who transferred from Saginaw Valley State, has been timed at 4.43 seconds in the all-important 40-yard dash (according to one source). Legace will likely get every opportunity to become the feature back on a team which has averaged less than 100 rushing yards each of the last two seasons. A speedy back who can catch the ball is what Waterloo needs in its open style of offence.
Future reference — Running back Matt Socholotiuk; inside receivers Patrick Sandlak and Mike Squires. Socholotiuk, built low to the ground at 5-foot-10, 227 lbs., spent last season at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, an excellent finishing school for future major-college players. The native of Waterford (Western O-lineman Shane Bergman was one of his blockers) was in Grade 12 in 2005-06, so he's coming in a little more developed than most rookies.
You guessed it: The 6-4, 220-lb. Sandlak is the son of former Vancouver Canucks winger Jim Sandlak, so yeah, he's got some athletic bloodlines. Squires is also a big slotback (6-4, 215). It's not clear how he would adjust to the speed of the university game but YouTube-age of him playing last fall shows he at least has a fair set of hands.
Another key recruit was Eric Roque, who is 5-foot-4, 155 lbs., but runs like the wind.
Coach & coordinators — Dennis McPhee (third season, fifth in CIS); Joe Paopao, offence; Marshall Bingeman, defence.
Enrolment — 28,000
Stadium/atmosphere — Warrior Field, the converted practice field, finally provides a real home for the team, which had previously shared a stadium with Laurier. It's a welcome development, plus there is
The free-of-charge grassy hill on the south side suits the walk-up crowd, especially on the sunny Saturday afternoons in late summer/early fall. As Rob notes, varsity sports aren't a vital part of the Waterloo experience, so outside of the homecoming game, attendance probably won't be great.
Off-the-field factors — Being the No. 1 school in the MacLean's rankings is a double edge. It might help with recruiting more than it hurts, since there many athletes (and parents) who think long-term. Point being, it is a challenge for McPhee and Paopao. The sheer size of a football roster makes it a necessity to have a few players who are in school to play football and get a degree "maybeventually." It's pretty tough to get by doing that at Waterloo, so recruiting carefully is a must. It's always going to be harder for Waterloo to get to the top of the OUA, but they might be good enough to upset the apple cart once in a while.
Alumni in CFL — Roughriders OL Chris Best.
From last season's preview — "York and Toronto were usually the automatic wins for the Warriors." They got their wins against McMaster and Windsor, thankyouverymuch.
Stock up or stock down — Up. Verdone is a cornerstone on defence, plus that 52-member recruiting class in 2008 is bound to turn up a few gems. And if UW alum Jim Balsillie ever decides to chuck his hockey obsession and settle for being the OUA's answer to Jacques Tanguay at Laval (kidding) ...
Monday, Sept. 7 at McMaster, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 12 vs. Ottawa, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19 at Laurier, 1 p.m. (University Rush)
Saturday, Sept. 26 vs. Windsor, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 at Guelph, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 10 vs. Queen's, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 at U of T, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 vs. York, 1 p.m.