Marching the troops up Vanier Ridge

He sits in the serenity of an unassuming office examining a book meant only for a chosen few. The soft lilt of classical music evokes a sense of calm before the storm. Not unlike a general preparing for war, his confident demeanour cannot hide the fear of the unknown.

In one week, his troops will don their protective armour and take the field to prove their skill and bravery for the opportunity to fight the first battle.

The outcome of the season-long war rests firmly on his broad shoulders. He must choose his army carefully, trying to mesh skill and potential. No easy task to be sure, but a duty Tony Fasano, head coach of the University of Calgary Dinosaurs Football team, bears with honour.

How does he do it? Does he dip into the sauce? No, the stench of stale beer in his office emanated from the two scuzzy Cheap Seats reporters, whom he enlightened with thoughts on the upcoming season which, by the sounds of it, may warrant bed- wetting anticipation.

Though the Dinos made it to the Canada West final at the University of British Columbia last year, it wasn’t enough.

"I don’t know if you’re ever satisfied, it’s like getting a B or a C in class," mentioned the coach. "This year we want to host the playoff game. It’s our goal to challenge for the Vanier Cup."

They also want to host the Churchill Bowl which will be held in the West this season, for the first time since 1995.

Since 1980, every player who has competed on a Dinos football team for a five year tour has been to a Vanier Cup.

"There’s a strong tradition and that’s what we’re trying to reestablish," explained Fasano confidently.

Aspiring football players will trample the practice field beginning August. 21, attempting to better their scores from last spring’s testing camp. According to Fasano, the nine ability trials (running, lifting, skipping, etc.) should yield better times as a result of the rigorous self-directed conditioning players underwent over the summer. That should prove veritable, assuming there wasn’t much to do in the summer–beer was banned, girls had a nine o’clock curfew, and house boats were deemed politically incorrect (is nothing sacred?). Friday’s testing will be followed by two-a-day practices, commencing Saturday.

"I feel we have a veteran group coming back, so expectations are higher," said Fasano, optimistic about this year’s squad. "It won’t be like we’re introducing something new [to the players] so we should be able to just get after it. Things like stances and other fundamentals should not show to be a high priority if the players return in shape and test well."

Offensive fire power is of little concern either. Leading the nation in scoring last season, the Dinos offence was virtually unstoppable. Returnees like quarterback Darryl Leason, running back Ken Eslinger and an experienced receiving corps anchored by the surprise return of Ryan Carruthers, who lead the country with nine touchdowns and finished second in receiving with 696 yards, as well as Hughes Audet and Shawn Kelley. Slotback Tarek Jayoussi’s move to the Hamilton Tigercats is a tough loss, but by no means devastating. The high profile glitz will be protected by the conference’s steadiest offensive line, which allowed fewer sacks than any other last season.

Nonetheless, Fasano, who comes from a defensive background, realises the need for a strong defence. Referring to the adage, "offence wins games but defence wins championships," the boss man acknowledged the need for solidifying the defence, specifically against the run and lower rungs of the depth chart.

"Defensively, that’s where we definitely have to improve."

The solidification will begin with the move of Greg Clerkson back to defensive line.

"We got burned on the run last year," mentioned Clerkson, a veteran nose tackle. "But it won’t happen this year, I can guarantee that."

Despite the loss of veteran linebacker Jodi Bednarek, Clerkson believes third-year standout Dave Swagar and fourth-year veterans Rick Tityk and Jay Kleinsasser will have little difficulty picking up the slack.

"I’m not worried about those guys stepping it up," Clerkson proclaimed. "Not at all."

The Dinos secondary, spearheaded by safety Ian Schafer who led the team in tackles and the country in interceptions last year, promises to be as stingy as ever. Fasano has also indoctrinated a couple of new coaches into the defensive ranks including former Dinos all-Canadian Trent Schmuland, who will push the inside defensive line.

"He was the guy I really looked up to," explained Clerkson, who remembers Schmuland from his rookie season. The new coach will be integral in teaching players "the little tricks,"–like how to anticipate the way in which a play will develop–that will make the difference between playing and watching Nov. 28.

The sour taste from last year’s thrilling, but devastating, Canada West championship loss to eventual national champion UBC still lingers, in the general’s mouth. That taste won’t be cleansed by anything other than a trip to the Vanier Cup.

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