By Shawn McLeish
In our continuing preview of the 2012 CIS season, we move to Quebec and a team from the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ). At McGill, football has a storied past. In fact, it has a history that stretches back to 1874, longer than any other Canadian school. First-year head coach Clint Uttley is trying to breathe new life into that winning tradition.
Uttley initiated a motivational program this off-season which imparts values in his players, such as respect and honesty. Part of that package is also a list of facts about the history of the McGill football team. Players have to memorize the facts as part of a test (you could get one question right on the test if you remember the year mentioned in the first paragraph.)
“With all the recent struggling,” said the coach, “kids lost touch with the tradition of the program. We need to get them back to it.”
McGill has found recent success in a number of other sports, including winning the University Cup last month for men’s hockey. Uttley hopes to be on par with the other sports sooner rather than later.
The path back to relevance for the Redmen began with a complete overhaul. Pat Boies, Mickey Donovan, and his brother, Pat, (who is also a defensive assistant) are the new coordinators for offence, defence, and special teams, respectively. All three facets of the game will be completely new for McGill in 2012. Uttley spent the winter with his hand-picked new coaches working on the fresh schemes and was excited recently to see them on display in the current spring camp.
On defence, McGill has been competitive for the past few years and played much better than last year’s 0-9 record indicates. The elder Donovan had success at Western coaching the front seven and will give McGill’s defence a few packages to master before moving to any colourful schemes and pressures.
In camp so far, Uttley says the defence is “flying around and exuding confidence.” That swagger comes directly from the Donovan brothers and coach Uttley, each star linebackers in the CIS during their playing days. With Uttley’s pedigree as a four-year starter at Acadia, it comes as no surprise when he says, “I want us to be known for playing good D.”
On the other side of the ball, Boies is making a switch to a new spread option-type offence. The goals Uttley has for the team are threefold:
“I want to extend drives. I want to shorten games, and I want to be effective in the red zone.”
McGill’s defence has spent a significant chunk of time on the field over the past decade or so and their red-zone offence last season was, to use Uttley’s own words, “bad. Just bad.”
Battling to pilot the new offence are three quarterbacks who all saw time last season. Jonathan Collin is back after suffering a severe knee injury last season and has impressed so far this spring. He may have the strongest arm in camp. Ryne Bondy saw most of the snaps last season and has great vision and field intelligence. Dallon Kuprowski is also in the mix and may be the best athlete of the three. If Kuprowski doesn’t win the starting QB job, expect him to spend time on the field involved in the offence somehow.
Kuprowski’s older brother, Taylor, returns as the Redmen’s leading rusher. Though not blessed with breakaway speed, Kuprowski is, according to his coach, “solid at everything. He can pass catch and his pass protection is awesome.”
Pushing him for some playing time will be star recruit from Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel (CEGEP), Luis-Andres Guimond-Mota. The shifty back from Collège François-Xavier-Garneau was named CEGEP AAA MVP as well as being MVP of the Bol D’Or championship game last season. Uttley calls him, “the biggest recruit to McGill in the past ten years.”
McGill has struggled mightily bringing in CEGEP players recently, but focus by Boies and his assistants during recruiting ensured this year’s class looked different. There are more CEGEP All-Stars among the new recruits than the last three classes combined.
Also aiding the rebuilding was a generous donation this winter from McGill alum, Robert Winsor. The funds are designed to help coaches and athletes compete at a higher level.
Despite an imposing schedule that routinely packs three of the top 10 teams in the country, Uttley knows there is one more ingredient for success at McGill.
“We have young, dynamic coaches and a massive financial endowment, but the players need to understand it’s hard work to win.”