CIS Countdown 2009: Simon Fraser Clan

Our Canada West previews take a brief trip back over the Rockies to Burnaby Mountain, home of the Simon Fraser University Clan.

Burning questions:

WAS the miraculous turnaround from a twenty-five game losing streak to the Canada West final in one year a fluke?

CAN the team ignore all the distractions over whether the Canada West conference will impose sanctions on them?

WILL Bernd Dittrich improve his accuracy? Or will he of the 453 rushing yards and 12 interceptions continue to both delight and frustrate coaches and fans alike?

2008 recap and record — (6-4, 5-3). They had two straight winless seasons. They had lost their quarterback, star wide receiver, and kicker. Nobody gave them much of a chance. And yet, after an off-season of steady recruitment and weight training, SFU showed up in August with a whole new attitude, and beat UBC in the very first game of the season. They kept it up the rest of the regular season, and upset #4 ranked Saskatchewan in the semifinals before being blown out by the Calgary Dinos in the Hardy Bowl.

Setting up '09
Dittirch enters his third season with SFU, and enters training camp with the inside track to keep the starting quarterback position, despite the addition of transfer quarterback Caleb Clark from Western Michigan. While Dittrich led the team in rushing yards with 453, he also had a paltry 49.8 passing percentage, with only 8 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. At running back, SFU is hopeful that Gabriel Ephard remains healthy—last year, he averaged 8.8 yards per carry, but only suited up for four games. Aside from leading receiver Jeff Biles, who is lost to graduation, all of his receivers return. However, three offensive lineman have graduated, which could make for a rough beginning of the year for Dittirch.

On defense, free safety Ray Waldichuk return to finish his degree, despite being drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the fifth round, and cornerback Anthony Deslauriers returns after leading the Clan in interceptions (4) for the second straight year. However, the team will feel the loss of linebackers Tom Pearce (graduation) and Brian Ridgeway (concussion).

Returning starters — 6 offence, 7 defence

Stepping out
(graduated players) — OL Bryan Thissen, OL Taylor Buis, OL Val Gruber, FB Josh Harvey, WR Jeff Biles, LB Tom Pearce, LB Brian Ridgeway, DE Casey Laprise,

Stepping up — QB Bernd Dittrich, RB Gabriel Ephard, WR Spencer Watt, FS Ray Wladichuk, LB Braydon Hobbs, DBs Tyler Codron and Sam Carino

Future reference
— “While we lost some pieces from last season, we have brought in a number of new players that will help out our team," says head coach Dave Johnson, and he has reason to be excited with his newest crop. At linebacker, Joe Patko arrives at SFU following a storied High School career, where he was named the ‘AAA’ Player of the Year in 2008 in BC. After a stellar career as a linebacker for the Ottawa Sooners and Vanier Cheetahs, Tylar Duncan (Montreal, QC) is expected to move to defensive end at the university level and compete immediately for the Clan’s rush end position. On offense, transfer receiver Matt Chapdelaine, the son of Clan alum and current BC Lions assistant coach Jacques Chapdelaine, will be immediately in the competition for a starting spot. In addition, top Ontario high school prospect Matt Hartnagle is a blue chip recruit, a 6’7, 310-pound tackle from Georgetown High School was a member of the Western Ontario Under-17 team.

Coach & coordinators
Dave Johnson (overall record: 5-13) enters his third year as SFU coach. Johnson was previously head coach of UBC in 1998, when he lead the team to the Canada West final before losing to the Huskies. After he left UBC, he went on to be defensive coordinator at the University of Calgary. Defensive coordinator Lou DesLauriers is also entering his third season at SFU, and like Johnson, was previously a head coach at UBC from 2002-2005, making the playoffs twice. Offensive coordinator Shawn Olson is in his third; a star quarterback for UBC in the 90's, he came to SFU after playing and coaching for the Vienna Vikings in Europe.

— 30,313 (26,232 undergraduate; 3,981 graduate)

Stadium/atmosphere — Haha. In past years, SFU has played here/there/everywhere, usually in front of sparse crowds. Swangard Stadium, home of the Vancouver WhiteCaps of the United Soccer Leagues and a fifteen minute drive from campus, has been their main base over the years. In the upcoming season however, they're slated to play all of their games at Terry Fox Stadium, a multi-purpose turf field located on campus.

Off-the-field story — As has been reported extensively, SFU is moving to the NCAA Div. 2, with all teams transfered out of the CIS by 2011-12. At this point, the Clan are slated to play two more years of football in the CIS, but whether the Canada West conference is still supercool with that is very much in question—they're still deciding whether to impose sanctions on the school. Clearly, there's a giant question mark hanging over the program right now.

In much-less-reported but much-more-awesome news, because classes get cancelled whenever buses can't get up Burnaby Mountain due to snow, there's a small push currently underway to build a gondola up the mountain to transport students from class.

Alumni in CFL — Roughriders K Luca Congi; Blue Bombers WR Aaron Hargreaves; Blue Bombers OL Ibrahim Khan; Blue Bombers DT Doug Brown; Lions C Angus Reid; Lions G Dean Valli.

From last season's preview
— "Don't expect a drastic turnaround from SFU. Still, Johnson's recruits may yet pay off and the Clan may be able to take a game or two. Prediction: They'll go 1-7, edging out a win either over Calgary or UBC. We'll see what happens." (Oops)

Stock up or stock down
— Sideways. The days of winless seasons are over in Burnaby, but whether this group can maintain the magic they had last year is up in the air. They'll reach the playoffs, but do they have the strength to take down the Huskies or Dinos?

Schedule (all times Pacific)

Saturday, Aug. 29 at UBC, 2 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 11 vs. Manitoba, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 18 vs. Alberta, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 26 at Calgary, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 2 vs. Saskatchewan, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 9 at Regina, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 vs. UBC, 1 p.m. (Shrum Bowl/Shaw TV)
Saturday, Oct. 31 at Manitoba, 2 p.m.
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