By Richard Goldberger, June 4 2015 —
Spring has arrived. For the Dinos football team, that means the official start of their 2015 season.
The Dinos held their annual spring training camp from April 29 to May 3 at McMahon Stadium, giving both returning and incoming players their first taste of this year’s action. Led by new head coach Wayne Harris Jr., the Dinos look ready to face the challenges of the upcoming campaign.
“Spring camp went really well,” Harris Jr. said. “We had a good crop of returning players participating. It gives a chance for our young guys to get into more of a starting role, get a little more experience. A lot of them showed that they had great offseason training and were ready to take on the role.”
Harris Jr. was named the sixth head coach in Dinos history after former head coach Blake Nill left the program to join the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Nill coached the Dinos for nine seasons, winning six Canada West division championships and leading the team to three Vanier Cup finals. Harris Jr. served as the team’s assistant coach for 16 seasons.
“Blake and I go a long way back,” Harris Jr. said. “What he brought in was that change of attitude and a culture of excellence which is well-established and ingrained in our players. That’s really what we look to sustain, and his legacy will be that we’ve established a culture of excellence and will continue that going forward.”
The Dinos went 6–2 in the 2014 regular season, leading the country in both average points per game (52.4) and touchdowns (51). The Dinos offence also boasted the nation’s second-best average for offensive yards per game, hitting 643.1. They were also among the nation’s top 10 defensive teams.
Despite losing several key players to the Canadian Football League — including Sukh Chungh, Sean McEwen and Jake Harty, who were all among the top 10 selections in the 2015 CFL Draft — the Dinos have retained many of the players critical to their potent offence. Although they’ve shown they’re no longer unbeatable in the Canada West playoffs, coach Harris Jr. hopes to keep the University of Calgary as the West’s top target.
“Our expectations are basically the same, they’ve been the same for the last several years — we expect to get to championships,” Harris Jr. said. “We have the nucleus in place, and to sustain that you need to keep bringing in great young players like we have on the squad right now. We have a good core coming back and having that young squad back gains them that much more valuable experience which is what it takes towards championship seasons.”
The Dinos season ended abruptly last November when they lost 27–15 to the University of Manitoba Bisons at home in the Canada West finals, a game they were favoured to win. The game was highlighted by the upstart Bisons’ impenetrable defence, which forced the Dinos to commit a staggering 10 offensive turnovers. It was the first time the Dinos failed to win the Canada West championship and advance to the national semi-finals since 2007.
“You always worry a little about how guys are going to react each season. Last year we knew we had a very talented squad and some injuries in some key positions. That’s not an excuse. It’s just something that occurred,” Harris Jr. said. “We knew Manitoba was going to be a strong team. We did not play well in any of the games against them. They were successful and we didn’t meet our goals last year.”
The Dinos open the regular season against their former coach and the UBC Thunderbirds on September 4. With many of their Canada West rivals watching to see the effect of the team’s coaching change, the Dinos will look to start the season on a high note.
“I know they’re going to be looking at how the change impacts the program,” Harris Jr. said. “We keep saying the program has been strong for many years and it’s the whole team involved, not just the players but the staff. It’s more than one individual.”