PREVIEW: “This defence could be the best that I’ve had in Calgary” is previewing all 27 CIS teams.  As the previews are announced, you can find them here on CFC.

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With the opening of their 2014 training camp, powered by Perpetual Energy, today we look at the six-time defending Canada West champion University of Calgary Dinos.

Camp opens Friday, Aug. 22 at McMahon Stadium as the team prepares for non-conference action the following Saturday, Aug. 30, as they take on the Laval Rouge et Or in Quebec City in a rematch of the 2013 Vanier Cup. Canada West play opens at home Friday, Sept. 5 in KICKOFF IX as the Dinos play host to the Alberta Golden Bears, with kickoff slated for 5:30 p.m.

Andrew Buckley


Offensively, the Dinos look to be a powerhouse once again. All but one starter – slotback Chris Dobko – returns to the lineup and, led by reigning conference MVP Mercer Timmis at tailback, the Dinos will look to pick up where they left off after leading the conference in scoring, rushing, and total offence a year ago.

“You think back to 2009 with Woodson, Walter, Lumbala, Parker, the big O-line, and Glavic…I don’t know if this group has received quite that much recognition as those guys, but they’ve proven they can play,” said Blake Nill, who begins his ninth season as the Dinos’ head coach. “And we bring back just about everybody – obviously we need to find replacements for Cuong Thai Lieu and Chris Dobko, but on paper this is a really impressive group.”


Key returnees: Andrew Buckley, Eric Dzwilewski, Jimmy Underdahl

Key losses: none

Key additions: Deondre Townsend

Andrew Buckley took over for the injured Eric Dzwilewski in the second half of the Dinos’ first game last year, then led the team to its first-ever 8-0 record on the field and a trip to the Vanier Cup. But Dzwilewski, the 2012 Canada West MVP, is back and ready to challenge again for the starting position. Southpaw Jimmy Underdahl saw considerable game action in 2013, while newcomer Deondre Townsend will be an interesting addition to the offensive backfield.

Nill: “Buckley was the starter at the end of the year, and he has to come in with that role. But Dzwilewski is going to be given every opportunity to get back into the starting position, and it’s going to be a training camp/exhibition game decision. If one of them gets off to a slow start, it’s going to hamper his ability to get that job – they both need to be ready to come out and compete right away.”


Key returnees: Mercer Timmis, Mac Sarro, Quentin Chown, Bryce Harper

Key losses: Cuong Thai Lieu

Key additions: Imoreshi Dania, Jason Loo

Mercer Timmis is the Dinos’ offensive catalyst, and the 2013 Hec Crighton Trophy finalist is back for his third season after leading the nation in rushing with more than 1,100 yards and setting new conference records for total (19) and rushing (18) touchdowns a year ago. He’ll be ably backed up by Quentin Chown and Bryce Harper, while newcomers Imoreshi Dania and Jason Loo will look to make their marks as well. At the H-back spot, the Dinos welcome the return of Mac Sarro after he was selected by Montreal in this spring’s CFL draft.

Nill: “Mercer is the best tailback in the country, and I don’t say that about a lot of my players. After that, Quentin Chown is ready for a breakout year – he’s big and strong and can make stuff happen. And I think Bryce Harper is ready to break out as well. He has an undeniable work ethic and desire to play, and after two years with us he’s ready to go.”


Key returnees: Jake Harty, Brett Blaszko, Mike Klukas, Brendan Thera-Plamondon, Rashaun Simonise

Key losses: Chris Dobko

Key additions: Will Maxwell, Giancarlo Spoletini

Expect fierce competition amongst the receiving corps, where the Dinos are blessed with speed and size throughout the lineup. Gone is the team’s all-time receptions leader in Chris Dobko, but the Dinos return an impressive slate of receivers including Jake Harty, one of this year’s top prospects for the CFL draft, along with the last two conference rookies-of-the-year in Brett Blaszko and Rashaun Simonise.

Nill: “Receiver will be one of the most competitive areas on the team. You look at Blaszko, Harty, Simonise…Klukas had a tremendous off-season, and he has earned the right to be considered a legitimate threat now. Brendan Thera-Plamondon might have been the darkhorse of the whole conference last year with some amazing games. Then, you look at two high school kids out of Calgary in Will Maxwell, who has tremendous speed, and Giancarlo Spoletini from Rundle College has the size and will end up as a big inside receiver for us.”


Key returnees: Sukh Chungh, Sean McEwen, Jordan Filippelli, Braden Schram

Key losses: Connor Bryan, Andrew Driusso

Key additions: Jordan Sylvestre, Darius Ciraco – CFC 100

The hallmark of a Blake Nill team is the offensive line, and the group coached by Steve Buratto will look to again set the tone for the Calgary run game. Veteran centre Sean McEwen and left guard Sukh Chungh are both expected to go high in next year’s CFL draft and anchor the group, and both are returning second team All-Canadians. Jordan Filippelli and Braden Schram got all kinds of valuable experience in 2013 as well.

Nill: “The offensive line has to be considered a strength. Last year we started with three kids who hadn’t taken a snap in CIS football, and two of them played every down on the season. We’re looking for our first seven to be as good as anyone in the country.”


Key returnees: Johnny Mark, Rashaun Simonise

Key losses: Chris Dobko

Key additions: Alec Curtis

Johnny Mark, the Dinos’ other pick in last year’s CFL draft, returns to the team after attending the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ training camp. One of the most accurate kickers in CIS history, Mark is a returning first-team All-Canadian and has his sights set on school and conference kicking records in 2014 – but he’ll have to battle for his job with newcomer Alec Curtis. Specials played a huge role for the Dinos in 2013, particularly in their Mitchell Bowl win over Western, and you can expect more of the same this fall.

Nill: “Having Johnny back is a big, big deal for us. We had a good recruiting year for kickers, but having the veteran guy back is important. But Alec Curtis, who was a scholarship athlete in Texas, is here, and he’s made it clear that he wants to compete for that job. Our special teams unit has done remarkably well. Coach Taylor Altilio is an outstanding coach, and he has an abundance of resources available to him, and coach Jim Hartley has had four straight All-Canadians at kicker. I’m looking for our special teams to dominate this year, and they’ll be a huge factor in any success we have this year.”

Dinos defense


While the story of the 2013 defence was youth, with 11 new starters on the squad, the Dinos managed to place two players – linebacker Doctor Cassama and halfback Cyril Iwanegbe – on the first All-Canadian team. This time around, the entire group is back. They’re fast, athletic, and deep – with plenty of competition at virtually every position.

“This defence could be the best that I’ve had in Calgary,” said nine-year head coach Blake Nill. “At this point last year, the starting group had 20 games of CIS experience, and most of that was Tom Spoletini. With the experience they gained and their speed and athleticism, the competition in the secondary and at linebacker will be as stiff as we’ve ever had. There will be great football players who won’t be on the field.”


Key returnees: Tyler Langlais, Brett Wade, Jack McEwen, Cory Robinson

Key losses: Zach Jenkins

Key additions: James Bradley, Joel Van Pelt – CFC 100

The D-line was dealt a blow early in the Vanier Cup when veteran Tyler Langlais, a returning conference all-star, sustained a knee injury that required surgery. His rehab complete, Langlais is back and ready to go at camp along with a group that was very young a year ago but gained all kinds of experience in 2013 as the Dinos led the conference in run defence, allowing just 127.6 yards per game along the ground. Brett Wade, Jack McEwen, and Cory Robinson are all looking to have breakout seasons, while the highly-touted James Bradley lost 50 pounds in the off-season and is ready to suit up after missing 2013 with an injury sustained on the first day of training camp.

Nill: “Tyler will be ready for camp, which is an amazing job of rehab for him. We had a tough time stopping the run in the Vanier Cup, but we really did have a group of kids who had no business being in that game. They have trained hard all year, and we’ve developed our youth. I’m looking for huge years from Brett Wade and Jack McEwen, and Cory Robinson is a great football player. And like Adam Konar, James Bradley never got to play because of injury last year, and he is in great shape and looks really good.”


Key returnees: Doctor Cassama, Thomas Spoletini, Tanner Doll, Brad Friesen, Iyanu Ojekale

Key losses: Alex Ogbongbemiga, Andreas Iwanegbe

Key additions: Adam Konar, Micah Teitz – CFC 100

The heart and soul of Calgary’s defence, the linebacker group is comprised of outstanding athletes with great speed and range – and it’s also the most veteran group on the defence. Doctor Cassama and Thomas Spoletini both explored pro options in the off-season but elected to return for another season with Nill, and Tanner Doll had his best season in 2013 and is back for more. The tandem of Brad Friesen and Iyanu Ojekale played every game last season as rookies and will battle the veterans for their starting roles, while Adam Konar finally makes an appearance in a Dinos jersey after he was injured at Spring Camp in 2013. Konar turned heads in his one CIS season at UBC in 2011 and will be a force to reckon with for the Calgary defence.

Nill: “We play the 30 defence for a reason. We want athletic linebackers who can play the game sideline-to-sideline, and guys like Cassama and Spoletini fit that role. Tanner Doll had a great finish to last season, and then you get into the youngsters – guys like Brad Friesen, who could be the best of them all, and Ojekale started in the Vanier Cup as an 18-year-old. But Adam Konar – he could be the best player on the team. He’s a special athlete, he has worked hard, and I’m looking forward to getting the most out of him this year.”


Key returnees: Michael Schmidt, Robert Woodson, Nathan Mitchell, Cyril Iwanegbe, Adam Laurensse

Key losses: Tom Knitter, Adam Ballingall

Key additions: Antonio Penn, Boston Rowe

Cyril Iwanegbe is a returning All-Canadian halfback, while Adam Laurensse earned conference all-star status on the corner last season. That pair is complemented by the likes of Nathan Mitchell at safety, Robert Woodson and Michael Schmidt on the field side, as well as some outstanding others in Hunter Turnbull and Elie Bouka. St. Francis High School’s Boston Rowe, who redshirted at quarterback last year, makes the switch to the defence and will challenge for playing time as well.

Nill: “I look at the athleticism with that group and again, they’re going to have to come in and have a fast start. There’s basically eight days to prove yourself, because once the season starts it’s tough to wedge yourself into a starting spot.”

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