Just how much improvement will be demonstrated this season by the Mount Allison University Mounties? Well, there may be some indication this Saturday afternoon when they play host to the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in a 1:30 p.m. exhibition contest at MacAuley Field.
Defensive co-ordinator Scott Brady believes the team has far more talent than in recent times due to an extensive recruiting program conducted over the past three years, but, as he says, "the proof will be in the pudding" when it is all laid out on the field.
He says recruiters were successful in bracing up areas that needed help - like finding some bigger offensive linemen, some big and quick receivers and a couple of running backs where there was a vacancy created by the absence of All-Canadian Jordan Botel, who ran the ball more than 300 times without an error.
While the Mounties marched to the conference championship last season with a late run, head coach Kelly Jeffrey points out that must be put aside as there will be no resting on their laurels. He admits the other teams will be taking dead aim at his troops and as the adage goes, "you play one game at a time."
The first thing Jeffrey is hoping for is that the Mounties get off the starting mark quickly and not fall to 1-4 as they did in 2013.
"Now that the Mounties are the team to beat," he says, "I think the focus has to be on improving and getting better. If we get caught up in defending a title or some of the things that go with it, it will get us off the path of where we want to go."
Brady says what he has seen over the first few days of training camp has been exciting.
"While there will be a lot of hard work needed to be done, we have seen some impact on the defense even though most of the newcomers will be required to make the transition from high school to an entirely new level of play."
Ninety-seven players, including those expected, showed up last week for practice. Brady says the veterans, especially, arrived in amazing physical condition but it will take some of the newcomers time to catch up. He says people like Jordon Redding and Devante Sampson have shown amazing body change while Jake LeBlanc, Mikele Joseph, Chris Plante, and Kyle McLean have improved immensely.
So what is in store for the ground game? Well, Emmanual (Congo) Musangu is back for his final season and is an experienced warrior who is capable of grinding out yardage. Brady is confident sophomore Quinn LeBlanc of Calgary has the tools, while a pair of newcomers -Kiel Ambursley of Toronto and Chris Reid - may contribute but says it is a big transition to the university game.
Discussing the exhibition game where coaches are able to assess their talent under live conditions, Brady says the goal is to stay healthy and evaluate players, while winning is not far behind.
MacAuley Field could be crowded as both sides are expected to use up all their uniforms to dress 75 or more players.
A realignment of coaching duties has been made with Jeffrey working with the quarterbacks, Brady with linebackers, Gord Francis with running backs, Brandon Dubbs with defensive backs, Gaetan Richard with receivers, Pete Miller with the defensive line and Terry Tate with the offensive line.
So Saturday will be a prelude of what is to come. The Mounties find themselves in a defending position for the first time since 1998. However, with continuity in the coaching ranks, strong support from the university and Fifth Quarter Club and a long range plan in place the team could be one ready to demand a CIS ranking in the years ahead. Certainly by 4 p.m. Saturday fans will have a much better handle on the situation.
And don't forget the starting time - for the only time this season it will be 1:30.