By Ned Bekavac
Last year’s University of Guelph Gryphons set a new team record in provincial university football with their 7-1 regular season.
But head coach Stu Lang is quite happy to turn the page, thank you very much.
“During our winter camp, I told our players that the lifespan of a football team is only one year,” said Lang, at Gryphons practice on Tuesday at Alumni Stadium.
“I told them to forget last year. What we’re trying to do is find our identity, or character of this new team.
“We’ve obviously lost a lot of fifth-year guys that gave us leadership, but I think our team is going to be more talented this year.
He adds: “But talent doesn’t win you a semifinal game, it’s character. So that’s yet to be seen.”
Lang hopes he sees said character starting Sunday when the Guelph Gryphons open their OUA season by hosting the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
The addition of Carleton this season brings the football league to an odd-numbered 11 teams. Each will get a bye week, and now the schedule is starting a week earlier than usual.
With the early start, training camp has been trimmed, and, come kick-off Sunday, the Gryphons will have been at it for 10 days, not the previous 14.
Which isn’t ideal, said Lang.
“It’s especially tough on the rookies because we’re having to install things so quickly to get ready for Laurier,” said Lang.
According to the OUA’s 2013 football preview, the Gryphons have 10 possible offensive starters returning from last year, and six on the defensive side of the ball.
But Lang says his team is still quite a young one.
Top players in some high-profile positions – quarterback (Jazz Lindsey), kicker (Dan Ferraro), linebacker (John Rush) – are all heading into their third year, said the bench boss.
The Gryphons this year are benefitting from getting to hold training camp on their home field. Last year, Alumni Stadium was getting revamped so the team found itself up at Varsity Field for camp.
Sunday’s game will see the head coaching debut of Laurier’s Michael Faulds, the Eden Mills native and former John F. Ross CVI quarterback who went on to be a star pivot at Western. Before he got the Laurier gig, Faulds was offensive coordinator for the York Lions.
Lang admits being Faulds’s first foe could be tricky. They’ve been checking out York game film in preparation for Sunday’s contest.
“He’s very smart, young and ambitious,” said Lang, of Faulds.
“It’s the one guy, we sort of don’t know. Most of the other coaching staffs we know.”
Days away from their opener, Lang hopes that last year’s magical run – the team went 7-1, had some colossal comebacks in the mix, and reached the Yates Cup game – wasn’t just a blip on the radar.
“What we need is a tradition of winning, and some of the teams in the OUA have that,” said Lang.
“We have been successful on occasion, but what we want to have is to be consistently successful.”
Sunday’s game kicks off at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.
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One step at a time
Inspiration is not often found on a set of stairs, but the steps to the Gryphs weight room can do the trick.
The steps have names of the Gryphons’ foes, in order, throughout the 2013 season. The top step reads “One step at a time,” and below it, “Vanier Cup.”
Head coach Stu Lang says the idea came thanks to a visit to the University of Texas, which had a similar thing but with pictures going up the walls.
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First-year player let go
A first-year Guelph player was let go from the team after an incident Sunday in the team’s combined practice with the Western Mustangs at Western.
“The rookies especially want to do well to impress the coaches,” said Guelph head coach Stu Lang. “But what happened was uncalled for. It’s not how a Gryphon acts.”
The incident saw a helmet get used “as a weapon,” said Lang. “Fortunately he didn’t hit anyone and no one got hurt. But just the act was something I can’t accept, plus the team doesn’t accept.”
The player won’t be back, said Lang.
“It’s unfortunate. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson, and he’ll be a better football player,” said the coach.