OUA PREVIEW: Gryphons open 2015 season with road game versus Warriors

Waterloo, ON – With temperatures hovering in the high ‘teens this week, it was a harsh reminder for some that summer will soon be nearing an end. The good news? The cooler weather is Mother Nature’s reminder that football season is just around the corner! On Sunday, August 30 the Gryphons football team will officially kickoff their 2015 campaign when they travel to Waterloo to take on the Warriors in the lone night game in Week 1 of the OUA’s regular season schedule. Kickoff is set for 7pm at Warrior Field and will be televised live on Rogers TV Cable 20 for local viewers. The game can also be seen live online at OUA.tv.

A total of 18 seasons have come and gone since the Gryphons last hoisted the Yates Cup (1996). Last season, the team came agonizingly close to accomplishing the feat after falling 20-15 to the McMaster Marauders, in a game in which they held McMaster without an offensive touchdown. After having had all season to think about it, the Gryphons return in 2015 determined to finish the job. But the playoffs are a long ways away. As the saying goes, one-game-at-a-time. And game No. 1 is here.  Finally.

Gryphons quarterback James Roberts (Cambridge, ON) enters his first full season as a starter. Last season as a rookie, Roberts impressed when called upon to fill in for the then-injured Jazz Lindsey. With Lindsey having moved on from the program, Roberts will look to build upon a strong rookie campaign and solidify himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the OUA. His favourite target in 2015 will most likely be play-making wide receiver A’Dre Fraser who enters into his fourth year with the Gryphons. Roberts and Fraser were able to connect several times on Saturday (Aug. 22) in the team’s preseason game against the Manitoba Bisons. In that game, they hooked up for a seven-yard touchdown, but the real highlight of the game came on an outstanding one-handed catch by Fraser on a long completion down the field into tight coverage. When it comes to the ground game, Roberts will be handing off to powerful third year man Johnny Augustine (Welland, ON) who provides the Gryphons with the type of physical rushing attack fans have become accustomed to while watching Rob Farquharson over the years. With Farquharson having graduated, Augustine leads the ground game that features several talented ball carriers that also includes Toronto native Brandon Gordon. Another key piece to the Gryphon offence in 2015 will be local product James Ingram who returns for his senior year and can impact the game with his blocking as well as his receiving. Perhaps the most important piece to the puzzle for the Gryphon offence is up front, where an experienced offensive line will set the tone, led by OUA All-Stars Matthew Nesbitt and Matthew Toppan.

Defensively, the Gryphons will have to adjust to life without star defensive end Cam Walker who, after an outstanding year in 2014, now finds himself with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. While it will be a group effort up front to help fill the void left by Walker, the Gryphons have the peace of mind knowing that both the linebacking core and the secondary are talent-laden units that remain virtually unchanged from a year ago. Middle linebacker John Rush returns for his senior season and is flanked by a 2014 Second Team All-Canadian linebacker in fourth year man Curtis Newton. The secondary is led by OUA All-Star free safety Tristan Doughlin, while second year manNicholas Parisotto (Guelph, ON) is coming off a sensational rookie campaign.

On special teams, the Gryphons will once again have the luxury of knowing that one of the best returners in the country is fielding kicks as Ryan Nieuwesteeg is back for his fourth year after being named a Second Team All-Canadian returner a year ago. The biggest change on special teams revolves around the kicker. Daniel Ferraro is gone after a spectacular 2014 campaign in which he set the CIS single-season record with 26 made field goals. He will stay on as the team’s kicking coach and will work with his younger brother, Gabriel Ferraro, who now takes over all kicking duties.

The big question for the Gryphons is, what exactly to expect from the Warriors. The Warriors have won just four games over the last four seasons, but 2015 marks a new era for the football program at the University of Waterloo with the signing of head coach Chris Bertoia. Bertoia joins the Warriors after having spent the previous five seasons with the Western Mustangs as the team’s Offensive Line Coach and Recruiting Coordinator. Bertoia was a standout offensive lineman during his playing days at U of W in the late 90’s where he helped the Warriors capture a pair of Yates Cup titles (1997 & 1999). Aside from being the head coach, Bertoia will also be calling plays on offence during game days as he will serve as the Warriors Offensive Coordinator. While this game will serve as everyone’s first true taste of the “new-look Warriors” expect to see shades of the formations Bertoia learned in his time under Greg Marshall at Western – spread formations mixed with elements of the power run game.

Much like the Gryphons, the Warriors will also be relying on a second year quarterback in 2015 as Lucas McConnell (Waterford, ON) looks to build off a solid rookie season. Despite being somewhat undersized (6-0, 170), McConnell is a smart quarterback with a big arm and good athleticism and is the unquestioned leader of this Warriors team in 2015. Perhaps the best weapon at McConnell’s disposal is second year receiver Lam Diing (Kitchener, ON) who at 6-5, 200 pounds provides the Warriors with a legitimate deep threat and a tough matchup for opposing corners.

Defensively, the Warriors have a new man in charge as Bishop’s product and former CFL’er Matt Robichaud also joins Waterloo as the team’s new Defensive Coordinator. Prior to joining the Warriors in 2015, Robichaud was the Linebackers Coach at Western, and spent nine seasons in the CFL as a player (2001-2009).
The Gryphons will return home for a 1pm Labour Day game against Laurier on Monday, Sept. 7. Tickets for that game are available at gryphons.ca/tickets.

Source: Guelph Gryphons Sports Information


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