WOULD you believe if it if someone said defensive backs Matt Carapella and Corey McNair might be tougher to replace than newly minted NFLer Vaughn Martin?
HOW much does adding Da'Shawn Thomas lay bare that Western knows this is the year to take out Laval, especially since Mike Faulds is in his final season?
DOES adding Thomas mean people missed that wideout Joshua Svec (OUA-high 48 receptions last season) transferred in from Waterloo?
HOW good is their offence going to be with Faulds working with an experienced complement of runners and receivers and a solid O-line? (And this was written before Thomas' arrival hit the news.)
2008 recap and record — (10-2, 7-1). The Mustangs were simply across-the-board awesome. They did not lead the country in rushing or passing or defending against either, but were between second and fourth in most measurable categories. The term "swagger" is overused, but Western had one for nearly the entire season, from staging a 22-point comeback in the opener vs. Ottawa to handling Saint Mary's in the Mitchell Bowl to advance to their first Vanier Cup since 1995. They lost 44-21 to an ever-loaded Laval program in the national title game, but the universal opinion seemed to be that they had nothing to mope about over how they competed.
Setting up '09 — Western's plans to throw a roadblock along Highway 401 to stop Laval's path to a home-field Vanier Cup starts with the offence they have built around Faulds. Western's wideouts collectively are scary. Jesse Bellamy (686 yards on 17.6 per catch) is Faulds' favourite target and is now joined by the OUA's second-leading receiver, Svec is a graduate student who transferred from Waterloo (where he had 864 yards, albeit in a pass-wacky offensive scheme). Nick Trevail, Zach Bull and redshirt freshman Ryan McCarthy are also in the mix.
Whatever methods Western uses to develop receivers should be copied. Da'Shawn Thomas, the Toronto Argonauts practice squadder who might come on as the CIS equivalent of a rental player, would obviously give the ground game a goose. Speedy tailback Nathan Riva and John Leckie and Ryan Tremblay, both of whom can line up in the slot, are also good options.
This might be the last time you read about Western's offensive line having two sophomores, since they happen to be left guard Matt Norman and Ahmad Jaradat, who were excellent as rookies. Jaradat likely shifts to tackle after playing centre as a frosh. Fifth-year RT Zach Pollari returns and there's a possible freshman starter at guard (scroll down).
Western was tough vs. the run last season. Chris Greaves and sophomore Mike Van Praet could stack up as the tackles. Kody Campbell and Aaron Handsor came on late in the season at linebacker, a position helmed by third-year man John Surla. Craig Butler, whose punt return TD broke open the Mitchell Bowl, is probably "the franchise" in the secondary with Carapella and McNair now gone. McNair, as a user pointed out, often gave Western an eighth defender against the run.
The schedule sets up well, with the Laurier game (the likely University Rush premiere on Sept. 12) at home and Queen's coming later in the season. The Golden Gaels have caught the Mustangs earlier on each of the past two seasons.
Returning starters — 9 offence, 6 defence
Stepping out — LT Richard Zulys DT Vaughn Martin, DE Andrew Hrytzak, LBs Adam Hrytzak and Jon Hood; DBs Matt Carapella, Andrew Bain and Corey McNair.
Stepping up — QB Michael Faulds, WRs Jesse Bellamy, Josh Svec and Nick Trevail, RB Da'Shawn Thomas, RB Nathan Riva, T Ahmad Jaradat, C-G Andrew Rady (returning for a fifth season after earning a spot in Western's law school), DTs Mike Van Praet and Chris Greaves, LB John Surla, CB Josh Foster, DB-KR Craig Butler, K-P Darryl Wheeler
Breakout performers — DBs Harold Mutobola and Kelvin Mwenge, who should compete for a couple open spots in the secondary. RB-FB Jerimy Hipperson offers a unique skill set, since he's a big back (6-foot-1, 212 lbs.) who can contribute to the passing game.
Future reference — QB Jason Schuler and OL Shane Bergman. Both are southwestern Ontario kids who perhaps flew under the radar. Schuler, who played at East Elgin in Aylmer, Ont., comes advertised as a mobile quarterback who is smart and tough. The 19-year-old Bergman, a native of Waterford (a bedroom community south of Brantford) is 6-foot-6, 360 lbs., and might end up becoming the starting right guard. He had almost reached his full height as a Grade 9 in 2004, so he has had plenty of time to grow into his frame.
Bergman been nicknamed Big Country, but one unsolicited suggestion is "the Canadian Shield."
Two new D-linemen are Ottawa native Scott Fournier and Mitchell Bec, a Calgarian. Liram Hajrullahu of St. Catharines could end up filling Wheeler's kicking shoe some day.
Coach & coordinators — Coach Greg Marshall (third season) also serves as offensive coordinator; Paul Gleason, defensive coordinator. Western made a significant upgrade to its line coaches. Chris Bertoia, a former coach at St. FX, has come aboard. Former Carleton and Ottawa coach Randy Fournier (father of Scott), is helping on weekends with the D-linemen.
Enrolment — 25,000 undergraduate; 5,000 graduate
Stadium/atmosphere — TD Waterhouse Stadium, built for the 2001 Canada Games, is one of the more modern facilities in the OUA, which has been on a mini-building boom with Mac, U of T, Waterloo and Windsor each getting new stadia. It has — and this is something of a novelty in staid old Ontari-ari-o — a licensed lounge with a view of the playing field, so you gotta like that. Attendance at playoff games last season was a bit of a puzzler.
Off-the-field factors — It is possible to read Thomas' recruitment as a sure sign Western knows 2009 represents its best chance to win a Vanier Cup. Faulds is in his fifth season and it will take time to develop an equally good game manager once he departs. The bowl rotation also gives the Mustangs a chance to get Laval away from PEPS Stadium, just like Saskatchewan and Saint Mary's did in 2001, '05 and '07. Marshall and Mac almost did so in 2003, so maybe there's a pattern with odd-numbered years.
Greg Marshall is once again working with AD Thérèse Quigley, who has returned to her alma mater. Quigley was at McMaster when Marshall built it into a powerhouse which almost made the leap from Ontario to national power, taking Mathieu Bertrand and Laval down to the final minute in the 2003 semi-final.
Alumni in NFL & CFL — Chargers DL Vaughn Martin, Argonauts OL Jeff Keeping, Argonauts WR Tyler Scott, Roughriders SB Andy Fantuz, Roughriders DB Leron Mitchell, Eskimos K Derek Schiavone.
From last season's preview — "UWO may finish with only a loss or two on the season coming into the playoffs, should the blue chip prospects and transfers they acquired in the offseason pan out the way they are being predicted."
Stock up or stock down — Up.
Sunday, Aug. 30 at Laval, 1 p.m. (exhibition)
Sunday, Sept. 6 at Ottawa, 5 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 12 vs. Laurier, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19 at Windsor, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 26 at Guelph, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. McMaster, 2 p.m. (Homecoming)
Thursday, Oct. 8 vs. York, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 at Queen's, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 vs. U of T, 1 p.m.