HOW close are they to challenging for second spot in the AUS in this, the final season for offensive dynamos Kelly Hughes and Gary Ross? (Remember that St. FX won by 40 in the playoff game.)
ARE they going to improve their run defence? (Acadia and Mount A gave up almost as many yards by land as by air last season.)
SERIOUSLY, how much will AUS fans miss the Hughes-to-Ross combo next season?
HOW challenging will that three-week slog of a home-and-home vs. Saint Mary's and trip to Laval be?
2008 recap and record — (2-7, 2-6). Having Hughes and Ross makes for a never-dull style of football and the Mounties came within a field goal and a touchdown of their first .500 finish since the late 1990s, since they had a one-point loss to Sherbrooke and a three-pointer to Acadia (the Axemen's only W). Hughes passed for more than 1,700 yards and was the leading quarterback rusher in Canada (616 yards, 6.9 avg.). Ross and Adam Molnar finished 1-3 in the conference in receiving, while Callan Exeter was an all-Canadian at safety. Defensively, Mount A was in tough with a schedule that including five games vs. very rushing teams, Saint Mary's and St. FX in conference play and a cross-over game vs. Concordia (which rang up 66 points). They were one of five teams which allowed 200-plus rushing yards on average, not counting a 52-12 playoff loss to St. FX. They graduated a lot of D-linemen, too, but beefing up the front four seemed to be high-priority.
Setting up '09 — Exeter's presence or lack thereof (it was up in the air, bearing in mind Atlantic conference play does not begin for another two weeks) will have an impact, but the defensive secondary is probably one of Mount A's deeper position groups. Cover corner Bradley Daye's return from January knee surgery should help.
The D-line was "decimated" (Sackville Tribune-Post) by graduation, which means recruits such as U de Montreal transfer Etienne Dupont, who is 6-foot-3, 290 lbs., will get a quick baptism (Saint Mary's in the opener). Ben Halpern is the best of the linebackers.
Offensively, Matt Pickett is pencilled in as the starting tailback. The Hughes, Ross and Molnar show should produce some highlights through the air. Olivier Eddie and Ross have the kicking and return games covered.
Returning starters — 9 offence, 7 defence
Stepping out — RB Colin Weldon, OL Josh Hamilton, DTs Andrew Blencowe and Scott Sheffer, LBs Mike Glover and Sean Riley
Stepping up — QB Kelly Hughes, WR-KR Gary Ross, RB Matt Pickett, WR Adam Molnar, OLs Aaron and Chris Munn, LB Ben Halpern and Bradley Daye, DBs Jermaine Oram, Luke Ekoh and Jeremy Snider
Breakout — Frosh linebacker Shane McGilly is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, comes to the Mounties from a good program in southern Ontario (Saint Paul's in Niagara Falls) and has enough athleticism that he played some receiver in high school and with the OVFL's Niagara Spears. He is expected to contribute right off the hop.
Future reference — Mount A's recruiting class seems to heavy on defence, with the likes of Ottawa lineman James Teevens (a former Ottawa Jr. Rider) and Maritimers such as linebacker Alex Hebb and d-back Tyler Nadolny. One Ontarian on the offensive side of the ball whom Jeffrey is high on is Ryan Brady, a wideout from Oakville.
Coach & coordinators — Second-year head coach Kelly Jeffrey is offensive coordinator, while Peter Estabrooks runs the defence.
Enrolment — 2,200
Stadium/atmosphere — David M. MacAulay Field (capacity 2,500), like the stadiums at other eastern schools such as Acadia, Bishop's and St. FX, harkens back to another era
Off-the-field factors — Two other developments which may play a role in the small, academically elite school's football fortunes are the arrival of a new athletic director, 35-year-old Pierre Arsenault (Sackville Tribune-Post, Aug. 6) and the formation of the Atlantic Football League, where several Maritime schools have entered club teams (with the players paying their own way).
Arsenault is too new to the job to speculate about long-term changes, but any time a new AD comes in, people are bound to wonder if some sports will be added, dropped, re-emphasized or de-emphasized. The formation of the AFL, which includes teams from UNB Frederiction, UNB Saint John and might include UPEI and Dalhousie entries, certainly is an interesting twist. It shows football is growing in the Maritimes (the number of high school teams in N.B. has almost tripled).
Football is a huge financial undertaking for a university. At least there is evidence there is enough interest to indulge a fantasy: Carving a conference out of the smaller eastern schools, with Saint Mary's joining a super-conference with OUA and QUFL heavies.
Alumni in CFL — None.
From last season's preview — "Unlike their similarly struggling OUA counterparts in Toronto, they will be able to keep far more games respectable and entertaining." Both teams finished 2-6.
Stock up or stock down — Up.
Schedule (all times Atlantic):
Saturday, Sept. 12 at Acadia, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19 vs. St. FX, 2 p.m. (Homecoming)
Saturday, Sept. 26 vs. McGill, 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 2 at Saint Mary's, 7 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Oct. 10 vs. Saint Mary's, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Oct. 17 at Laval, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 vs. Acadia, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Friday, Oct. 30 at St. FX, 7 p.m.
(Cross-overs: host McGill, visit Laval)