SACKVILLE, N.B. – Wow! It’s hard to believe but in just over a week, a bevy of well-muscled young men will arrive in our town to prepare for a three-to-four month odyssey that leads, hopefully, to another Loney Bowl appearance and a shot at national football honours.
Yes, Sackville’s heartbeat will kick up a notch or two with the arrival of 70 to 80 candidates for starting positions with the Mounties who will be competing with teams from St. Francis Xavier, Acadia, St. Mary’s and Bishops for Atlantic Conference bragging rights.
In fact, the well-toned athletes will be here next Friday to be exact – and will be on Alumni Field the following day working furiously in order to be prepared to take on an old nemesis in St. Mary’s Huskies in a pre-season fixture just seven days later – at 2 p.m on Saturday, Aug. 18.
This could require some fine juggling as not only are the Mounties entering a new era with rookie head coach Peter Fraser pulling the strings but with a massive rebuilding undertaking following the loss of numerous key veterans, mostly after having used up their five years of eligibility.
There are numerous imponderables as Fraser and primary assistant Gaetan Richard lead a squad that has over the last six seasons appeared in four Loney Bowls and two national semi-finals, both nationally televised.
Fraser is confident he has solved one headache caused by the departure of kicker/punter Ryan Lambert. The head coach says he has successfully recruited the top junior kicker in the country from Vancouver Island which should make life a little more pleasant. He said things did not look too prosperous in spring camp in the kicking department but he is certain this is one situation that has been covered.
Meanwhile, no fewer that eight young men will be vying for the starting quarterback position with veteran back-up Troy Downton currently having the inside track. But Fraser is looking for one of the rookies with junior experience to make a few waves.
“We feel that if we have a signal caller who gets the ball into the hands of our play-makers we should at least equal the 29 point a game average we managed last season,” says Fraser. “We have two great experienced running backs and a solid rookie on the way; we have at least four outstanding receivers that should give us the best unit in the conference, and we have a deep offensive line that should match up with any competitor.”
It has been expected that Richard’s offense should be able to mount some serious trouble for the opposition. Now it is a question if defensive coordinator Fraser will have the horses to stop the others from running up the score.
“No question the strength of our defense will be at linebacking which will be led by all-conference performer Damian Halstead,” he said during a recent discussion in his office in the university’s athletic centre. “With players like Nate Rostek in the secondary you can count on our guys putting up a battle.”
Play in the Atlantic Conference is expected to be interesting but Fraser has little scoop on the other teams after experiencing a hectic summer that has seen him and his wife move from Windsor, Ontario, purchase a home in Sackville, fit in some recruiting, draft out some new defensive schemes and initiate a team-building program.
The Mounties play host to Bishop’s on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 3 p.m. for their home opener and have the following week off before entertaining the Huskies on Sept. 8 in a 2 p.m. matchup.
But he knows that Acadia Axemen will be strong even though their brilliant quarterback is gone, that St. F. X. is in a rebuilding mode, but, like most people, has little idea of what is taking place with the Huskies other than that they have an outstanding quarterback. Even less is known about Bishop’s who joined the conference last season and went 1-7.
As for his Mounties, Fraser says their primary goal, naturally, is to win every game and to improve each time out. Other than that, he would like to make his return to the Atlantic Conference a winning one – and it will be his first time as head coach of any team. He previously spemt eight season as associate head coach at Acadia.
After riding a high for four seasons, Mountie fans are hoping the arrival of Fraser, a native of Oromocto who says one of his mentors was Peter Ayer, will mean a return to the top echelon.
There will be changes and, listening to some veteran players, it seems they are embracing these and looking forward to having fun while winning.