CIS Countdown 2009: St. Francis Xavier X-Men

Burning questions:

ARE those narrow playoff losses to Saint Mary's the past two seasons proof the AUS is the Big Two and little two instead Big One and little three, or does X give a little ground this fall?

WHAT kind of play-calling will fans see now that coach Gary Waterman, defensive coordinator last season, has the title of offensive coordinator (although the O.C. is not necessarily always the play-caller)?

HOW much will losing a line coach (Chris Bertoia) and a standout lineman (guard Steve Myddleton) affect their ability to get a push up front and open holes for James Green?

2008 recap and record — (5-5, 4-4). For the second year in a row, X finished second in the Atlantic and took Saint Mary's down to the wire in the Loney Bowl, falling 29-27 after a game-tying field-goal try went for a single on te final play. There were superlative individual efforts all over the place, from Green, who rushed for an AUS-best 814 yards, to linebacker Henoc Muamba, who was all over the field. Steve Snyder (1,676 yards, 6 TD, 9 interceptions) and Akeem Foster gave X a semblance of a dangerous passing game. The calendar year ended with a twist, as coach John Bloomfield, who had reportedly received a multi-year extension after the 2007 season, was replaced (rather abruptly, if memory serves). That led to some shuffling around with the coaching staff.

Setting up '09 — The core of the defence returns, including Muamba at linebacker and a pair of defensive-line bookends who each attended CFL camps, Yahia Dalloul and Dave Skillen. St. FX was actually a pretty good defensive group in 2008, except that it was probably on the field more than desirable. Three of the five heralded recruits on defence were down linemen, which might be acknowledgement that St. FX has to get bigger and quicker upfront to counter Saint Mary's strength.

Offensively, having a QB and tailback who are each fifth-year guys suggests there won't be radical change. St. FX has been very run-oriented the past two seasons, with Green rushing for 1,563 yards in the past two regular seasons. The passing game was peaks-and-valleys (under 50% passing, but more than 8 yards per attempt), which sometimes put the D in a tight spot. The X-Men, going by the numbers, can also stand to get more out of their return game.

Returnees — 26 on offence, 32 on defence (Atlantic teams are only beginning camp this weekend so starting spots are up in the air)

Stepping out — OLs Rory Campbell and Steve Myddleton, SB Jeremy Marchand, DT Harrison Petropolis

Stepping up — QB Steve Snyder, RB James Green, WR Akeem Foster, OLs Christian Oberegger and Gordon Sawler, DEs Yahia Dalloul and Dave Skillen, LBs Henoc Muamba and Tom Lynch, DBs Kwasi Nkansah and Nick Riva

Breakout performers — X has a running back waiting in the wings, Sean Atkins, a native of Fredericksburg, Texas who came east by way of Concordia University — the one in Nebraska, not the one in the west end of Montreal. Atkins ran the 4 x 100 relay in high school, so it's presumed he's fast.

Future reference — It is not for nothing X has a key recruit from the Ottawa Sooners on each side of the ball, wideout Devon Sparman and D-lineman Tom Narbaitz (who was selected the Quebec Junior Football League's top defender in 2008). Current Sooners offensive coordinator Bino Cesario was a star X-Men receiver in the 1990s, so there's an obvious connection.

Coach & coordinators — Rookie head coach Gary Waterman will also serve as St. FX's offensive coordinator. Jon Svec, the defensive backs coach, will be defensive coordinator. Waterman is a bit of a career X-Man, having played and been an assistant coach before taking the top job.

Enrolment — 4,894

Stadium/atmosphere — Oland Stadium (capacity 4,000) now has turf and new lights. The impact of that on X-Men football might be overstated, but it cannot hurt with recruiting and player development, since its grass field was due to be replaced.

The football games are an event in Antigonish. It goes doubled when that hated Halifax team comes to town.

Off-the-field factors — It's been a long while (13 seasons) since an Atlantic team other than Saint Mary's reached a Vanier Cup. Perhaps it is good to tick off a few of the factors, including (but not limited to) the growing emphasis on another big-ticket expenditure, hockey, in the AUS (a positive story, for sure), OUA schools stepping up efforts to keep Ontario athletes in-province and the rise of football in Quebec. It has made it harder for the schools down east other than SMU to compete.

Alumni in CFL — Roughriders LB-ST Mike McCullough, Stampeders G Derek Armstrong, Stampeders OL Steve Myddleton

From last season's preview — "James Green is without question the offensive cornerstone."

Stock up or stock down — Holding firm.

Schedule (all times Atlantic):
Saturday, Sept. 12 vs. Saint Mary's, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Sept. 19 at Mount Allison, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 26 at Concordia , 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. Acadia, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Friday, Oct. 9 at Acadia, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 vs. Bishop's, 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 23 at Saint Mary's, 7 p.m. (Eastlink)
Friday, Oct. 30 vs. Mount Allison, 7 p.m.
(Cross-overs: visit Concordia, host Bishop's)
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