Dinos Footballers gear up for the new season

University of Calgary Dinos head football coach Blake Nill sees a winning team in this year’s roster.

Though the Dinos finished 2-6 last season, there were some highlights, including a surprising 30-27 victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and quarterback Dalin Tollestrup winning the Peter Gorman trophy as rookie-of-the-year in Canadian Interuniversity Sport football. The team, however, hit a roadblock in their 2007-08 plans when Tollestrup announced his two-year leave to go on a Mormon mission.

Nill, who knew Tollestrup’s departure was a possibility from the get-go, made use of his time in the off-season and picked up a well-traveled quarterback, leaving the coach positive about the upcoming season.

“I think we’re a playoff team,” said Nill. “I’m not being cocky when I say that. We just have to go in with the confidence that we can compete in this conference.”

The Dinos will have to win with a new quarterback picking up the reins of the offence for a second year in a row. Though no choices have been finalized going into the camp

Fri., Aug. 17, American transfer Casey Brown is currently at the front of the pack.

Brown comes to the Dinos after spending three years at three different U.S. schools. Nill cautions that he will have to adjust to the Canadian game to be the go-to guy.

“The big concern is with the extra guy on defence,” said Nill. “It’s not uncommon for quarterbacks to have a problem with that extra guy. You see it in B.C. a lot where the high school kids play U.S. rules.”

Nill feels Brown has a fairly good grasp of the Canadian game after being in Calgary for spring camp in April. Brown hasn’t started a game since high school, when he earned first-team all-state honours, finished with 2,100 yards and 21 touchdowns and led the team to an 8-4 record.

Though Tollestrup was a shining star in an otherwise dismal season for the Dinos last year, Nill dismissed the idea that the team solely relies on their quarterback.

“My experience has basically told me we’re bigger, we’re faster, we’re stronger, we’re more mature,” said Nill. “Now, we have to start gelling as a team.”

The team starts the season on the road in B.C. Aug. 31 against the Simon Fraser University Clan, a team that finished last season winless in eight games. Last year, the team started the season with a loss and went on to lose a total of six in a row. Nill prefers starting on the road and wants his senior players to take on a leadership role.

“Last year when we started at UBC, we played very well for 56 minutes,” said Nill. The team lost that initial game 22-16. “It’s just a matter of being confident. “

In the off-season, Nill brought in eight players from his former team, the Saint Mary’s University Huskies, resulting in a competitive camp and a multifaceted squad. Nill’s hope to breed a competitive team was apparent after the Dinos went through 16 weeks of 6 a.m. workouts this winter.

“I’ve made it clear from the moment I came here that this is going to be a competitive environment and the culture here is going to change,” said Nill. “You’re going to have to compete 365 days a year to play on the field. [That attitude is] something that I believe was missing, that I’m going to install here right away, the same as we had at Saint Mary’s.”

Despite Nill’s high expectations, he is still hopeful. The team is only in its second year under him, meaning it may still take a few more years to bring the program to the level Nill left behind at SMU, where he won two Vanier Cups and six straight Atlantic University Sport Championships.

“I’ll be disappointed if the playoffs aren’t attained,” Nill admitted. “Last year we played one poor game against Saskatchewan here where we lost before we even stepped on the field. I think we were intimidated. I don’t think that’s going to be the case anymore.”

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