By David Song, September 19 2017 —
The University of Calgary Dinos football team is a powerhouse. In 2016, they put together a 9–2 regular season record and made it to the Vanier Cup, where they dropped a hard-fought 31–26 decision to the Laval Rouge et Or.
Having proven to be fierce competition against the country’s best varsity football programs, the Dinos are hungry for more — but it won’t be an easy road. Every year is different and past achievements don’t guarantee future glory. Despite high expectations, the Dinos are embracing the present and understand that achieving success begins one game at a time.
“I’ve been around this since the ‘70s and Canada West is a tough conference,” head coach Wayne Harris said. “You can’t focus on any one team. You focus on the team that you’re playing that week. If you’re looking two weeks down the road, you’re not going to be successful.”
The team’s current roster is a blend of veterans and first-years. The combination of new and experienced players is one of the team’s greatest strengths, according to third-year defensive back Nick Statz.
“This team is definitely a little more veteran than most of the teams we’ve had in the past. The group has been growing together for a couple of years and we have a lot of senior guys on offence and defence — especially our defensiveline,” Statz said. “But we also have a lot of young guys stepping up and filling their roles as well. It’s an exciting group for sure.”
Among the first-year players is linebacker Devin Derouin, who is determined to uphold the Dinos’ legacy of success.
“It really pushes me and all the other first-years to know we have to get better every day. We know that we have something to live up to,” Derouin said.
“For freshmen coming in, the biggest challenge is to learn to play at the speed and intensity of our game and also to learn our systems,” Harris explained. “It’s all about readiness. We don’t expect them to come in and start right away, but to develop and learn from the senior players.”
Practices involve exercises ranging from position-specific drills to full-team scrimmages between offence and defence with only 15-second breaks between each assignment. Harris and his assistant coaches observe diligently and call out instructions, ensuring that every player is giving their maximum effort.
“The majority of our staff has been very consistent over the years,” said Harris. “They have a really strong knowledge base. My expectation is for them to develop the players to their full potential.”
Some players are passionate about extolling the coaching staff’s virtues, including third-year running back Jeshrun Antwi.
“They are the best coaching staff in the country and I will put my name behind that,” said Antwi. “These guys have either played or coached at the CFL level or they know guys that have been associated with the CFL. They do their best job to get us ready for the week in terms of getting our playbooks ready, studying film and making sure we know our opponents — that’s something we always pride ourselves on.”
The Dinos opened the season with two convincing wins, downing the University of Alberta Golden Bears 55–26 on Sept. 1 before overcoming the University of Regina Rams 46–26 in the annual Kickoff game on Sept. 8. Both games showcased their explosive offence, resilient defence and plenty of potential for further improvement.
“Both wins have been big team wins,” said third-year receiver Hunter Karl, who caught three touchdown passes at Kickoff. “Everybody’s rallied together. We’ve gone through ups and downs in the games with turnovers or the other team scoring. The offence kind of sits there and we’re like, ‘Alright, now it’s our turn. Let’s go get it right back.’ ”
Since then, the Dinos took down the University of Manitoba Bisons in dominating fashion. The team won 76–17, making nine touchdowns in the process.
Mental strength combined with lineup depth is a winning formula for any team and the Dinos have both in abundance. While fans might be the most familiar with offensive stars like Sinagra, Antwi and Karl, every player is valuable. When someone is injured or having an off day, the Dinos rally around three words — next man up.
“We know we can distribute the ball to a lot of different people and defensively, we have a lot of people that can make plays,” Harris said. “This is a team game. It’s not a bunch of individuals that are going to win, but rather a united group that has the same mission.”
The next Dinos home game is on Sept. 23 when they’ll take on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in McMahon Stadium at 4 p.m.