The football season is ready for kickoff

By Joseph Sandler

The University of Calgary Dino football squad rush into the 2011-12 season with high expectations as an extra push. As the reigning three-straight conference winners and two-time Vanier Cup finalists, the Dinos enter the season with a lot of pressure. In the tough Canada West conference, the Dinos will compete without seven former All-Canadians who either graduated or moved on to the CFL. Head coach Blake Nill remains optimistic, with many new recruits and returning stars ready to carry on the competition.

“We have always been a team with substantial guys that can handle losing a player and filling that gap with a talented athlete,” he said. “That’s what we rely on now. Our biggest issue is just to keep rebuilding the depth.”

Missing from the roster this year are five starters: two-time MVP quarterback Eric Glavic, receivers Nathan Coehoorn and Anthony Parker and offensive linemen Alex Krausnick-Groh and Paul Swiston. Nill acknowledged that one of the greatest challenges the team faces is the tremendous turnover of players and the implementation of a brand new offensive system for the first time in five years. The Dinos will be employing a 30-defensive scheme, one that Nill said is dynamic, flexible and easy to recruit for.

The fourth-ranked Dinos football team began the 2011-12 season in dramatic fashion, defeating the Manitoba Bisons 35-21 in Winnipeg on Saturday. For the first time in four years the Dinos won the season opener.

The roster against the Bisons, however, remained similar to when the Dinos defeated them in 2010. Returning players are running backs Matt Walter, Steven Lumbala and Anthony Woodson, and receivers Chris Dobko and Taylor Nill who are expected to shoulder the load offensively. Eric Dzwilewski, 2010 Canada Interuniversity Sport rookie of the year, will quarterback the offence this year. Dzwilewski brings a 4-1 record as a CIS starter and incredibly active legs that will create a challenge for opposing defences.

The Dinos will focus more on balance and possession, allowing the defence more time to rest on the sidelines.

“You have to have balance. If you are one-dimensional you limit your capabilities,” said assistant coach Greg DeLaval, who returned to the Dinos after a few seasons with the University of Toronto’s football program. Former CFLer and NFLer Pat MacDonald will be working with the defensive line to develop an already solid front.

Dinos fans can expect much of the same on defence. Returning is 2010 Canada West Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Sam Hurl and 2009 CIS Rookie of the Year defensive end Linden Gaydosh.

Halfbacks Tye Noble and Doctor Cassama, cornerbacks Chudi Nzekwu and Michael Lau and McGill transfers Mike Edem and Jesse Zimmer make up the secondary.

With the huge turnover of players, Nill acknowledges the challenges facing this year’s squad.

“Special teams needs to be improved and we have lost a little depth,” he said. However, he believes the Dinos can bring home the Vanier Cup this year. “You have to be healthy when the playoffs start. When it comes time to play the big game, you have to play your best. You need to be consistent, you need to prove you deserve to be there.”

The Dinos proved themselves during the pre-season when they crushed provincial rivals the University of Alberta Golden Bears 49-14.

For the season opener, the first in four years not against the Saskatchewan Huskies, the Dinos entered the game as the heavy favourite. Despite the favour, the Bisons surprised spectators by coming out strong and putting the Dinos in an early deficit.

The Dinos quickly fell behind when Bison quarterback Khaleal Williams drove his team to the six-yard line. Bison first-year running back Anthony Coombs swept out to the left running into the Dinos end untouched. The Dinos had difficulty keeping up with the speedy running back who put up 167 offensive yards and two touchdowns.

The Bisons left the first quarter up three after a field goal from kicker Nick Boyd.

During the second quarter, the Dinos offence seemed to gain some traction and were able to put together a five-play, 30-yard drive. The Dinos took their first lead when Walter rumbled 49 yards through a sedan-sized hole created by offensive linemen Carson Rockhill and Reed Alexander.

The Dinos took a 17-16 lead heading to half time.

The Bisons opened the second half with a bang, taking the lead off the kickoff on a 91-yard scamper by Bison tailback Nic Demski.

The Dinos offence appeared to awake after this point and strung together an impressive seven-play, 53-yard drive that was snuffed out by Bison linebacker Thomas Hall.

After a good punt and cover, Coombs struck the Dinos again. Breaking three tackles and demonstrating his blazing speed, Coombs and the Bisons opened up a 14-point lead after his 90-yard touchdown reception.

Then came the comeback after relentless pressure from the Dinos defensive front caused three Bison fumbles. Timely catches by Nill, a tremendous rushing effort by Lumbala and a spectacular reception by Dobko put the Dinos up with 22 seconds remaining.

The suspenseful season opener provides a look into what is sure to be an exciting football season for the Dinos. The 2011-12 Dinos football squad has all the right tools to live up to high expectations.

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