CIS Countdown 2009: UBC Thunderbirds

The 2009 football season begins in less than two weeks, so we better get started with the team capsules, starting on the West Coast and working our way East.

Burning questions:

WILL sophomore Billy Greene step up to become the consistent quarterback the T-Birds need now that last year's starter, Marc McVeigh, has moved to the wide receiver slot?

CAN a 2-6 team replace the loss of so many key players and improve?

ARE they going to manage the endgame better? Last season, the 'Birds lost once on a last-second field goal and blew the chance for another win on shoddy clock management.

IS having part of camp in Kamloops due to Thunderbird Stadium being used for the Warped Tour going to help or hinder the young squad? ( In 2008, UBC was in Abbotsford for part of camp due to a Radiohead concert.)

2008 recap and record — (2-6). With a brand new running game, receiving corps, offensive line, and an inexperienced Q corps, UBC wasn't expected to contend after a 3-5 season in 2007. They turned some heads after an impressive 28-0 shellacking of defending Vanier Cup champions from Manitoba early in the season. However, injuries decimated the offensive line, the team couldn't get consistency at quarterback from three different young pivots who combined for a 50.7 passing percentage, with 3 TDs and 9 INTs, and the team finished on an uninspiring five-game losing streak.

Setting up '09 — Greene, who was one of the most dominant players in recent years at the B.C. high school level, has the "inside track" for the starting QB role after getting the majority of the snaps in the second half of season. RB Dave Boyd (462 rushing yards, 5.2 per carry) will anchor the running game, and looks to stay healthy the entire season. Wide receivers Jordan Grieve (20 catches for 248 yards) and Spencer Betts (five catches, but for an average-popping 241 yards) will look to build on their impressive rookie seasons.

Mike Morris was expected to leave after being selected 19th overall in the CFL draft by Winnipeg, but will return to anchor the O-line. On defense, Tyler Codron and Sam Carino return to anchor the secondary. Braydon Hobbs enters his final year with the T-Birds to lead the linebacking group.

Returning starters — 8 offence, 5 defence

Stepping out (graduated players) — DE Scott McCuaig (Canada West's all-time sack leader with 27½), DBs Alex Betts and Doug Goldsby; WR Blaine Kruger, SB Braden Smith, P-K Shawn McIsaac

Stepping up — QB Billy Greene, RB Dave Boyd, WR Marc McVeigh, WR Jordan Grieve, LB Braydon Hobbs, DBs Tyler Codron and Sam Carino

Future reference — With more than 40 freshmen at training camp, this is a young, young team (as fifth-year running back Cheng Wei puts it, "So many of these guys are born in the '90s… I feel old"), so naming all the new incoming players could take a while. However, the team is betting on high school standout Tibi Banica to play a key role. In addition, the team is very high on offensive lineman Kelly Kurisu, a transfer from Western Washington, which discontinued football.

Coach & coordinators Ted Goveia (overall record: 9-15) enters his fourth year as UBC coach. Goveia has been assistant head coach at McMaster and offensive coordinator at Mount A. Defensive coordinator Dino Geremia. is also entering his fourth season. Special teams coordinator Kevin MacNeill is in his second; he had the same title at Laurier.

Enrolment — 44,355 (35,373 undergraduate; 8,982 graduate)

Stadium/atmosphere — Constructed in 1967, Thunderbird Stadium is starting to show its age, but can still be a great place to enjoy a game (or concert) with friends when it's packed. Only problem is, it rarely is — student and community support for university athletic teams is virtually nonexistent. Renovations to the roof last year have fixed the embarrassing spectacle of constant leaks, but unless there's a Shrum Bowl against SFU, watching the game from the stands is often wet, cold, and empty.

The rain/concerts have frequently turned the practice fields for the football team to mush in recent years. Despite frequent pleas from the football program, no artificial turf field has been installed, making a coherent practice schedule difficult.

Off-the-field story — There's this large international sporting competition known as the "Olympics" coming to Vancouver this winter and the secondary hockey venue is the newly built Thunderbird Winter Sports Arena, located at UBC. As a result, VANOC has begun work on temporarily paving over the two rugby/all-purpose fields closest to the arena. Meaning ironically, as a result of the Olympics in February, UBC students will have less space to play sports during the school year.

Alumni in CFL — Alouettes LB Shea Emry; Als S Doug Goldsby; Tiger-Cats DB Sandy Beveridge; Eskimos FB Chris Ciezki; Lions MLB Javy Glatt

From last season's preview — "In the end, this team might not be as strong as last year's edition. Prediction: 2-6."

Stock up or stock down — Up. With young talent in all the right positions, this program is on the upswing — but Greene and company will need at least a year of seasoning together before making the leap to the playoffs.

Schedule (all times Pacific)
Saturday, Aug. 29 vs. SFU, 2 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 4 at Alberta, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19 at Manitoba, noon (Shaw TV)
Saturday, Sept. 26 vs. Regina, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. Calgary, 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 9 vs. Saskatchewan, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 at SFU, 1 p.m. (Shrum Bowl/Shaw TV)
Friday, Oct. 23 vs. Manitoba, 7 p.m.
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