The defensive side of the Dinos football team was supposed to be in a rebuilding year during 2013. With only two starters returning from last year’s defensive squad and an entirely new defensive line, head coach Blake Nill could have been excused for expecting some rough outings this year.
“We were very concerned about the defensive line,” admitted Nill. “We lost our top seven defensive linemen from last year, so going into this year the cupboard was pretty bare in terms of experience.”
Yet despite their inexperience, the Dinos are looking to finish the regular season at a perfect 8–0 by defeating the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Friday, Oct. 23 at McMahon Stadium.
This year has been a remarkable learning experience for the Dinos. After the team allowed 31 points in the season opener against the Thunderbirds, the defence has improved on a weekly basis.
“Just watching the tape from our first game to the tape from our last, you can definitely see it’s night and day,” said first-year defensive lineman Brett Wade. “I would definitely say there were a couple of rough patches, but we definitely kept getting better.”
Third-year defensive lineman Tyler Langlais was confident in his team’s ability this year, and said that improvement was a matter of gaining game experience.
“The rough patches are just the nerves,” said Langlais. “The kids haven’t quite played the game so they get nervous and we starting thinking a little too much because we don’t want to screw up or let anybody down. Now that everybody has game experience, it is looking really good in the future.”
Nill made the coaching defensive line a priority this year, and credits former Dino, Calgary Stampeder and current defensive line coach Kent Warnock for his work with the group.
“I’m more of a taskmaster and motivation guy,” said Nill. “Warnock teaches the skill sets that they utilize a lot. It has been a realization that we had to spend time with these guys, and we’ve certainly put the effort in there.”
The coaches’ efforts did not go unnoticed by Langlais, who said that Nill has given the defensive line special attention at every practice despite being in charge of the team as a whole.
“[Nill] throws us into the ground so that we’re ready come game time,” said Langlais.
The season finale against the Thunderbirds will be another important test for the defence. With offensive standouts Andrew Buckley and Mercer Timmis likely to sit out much of the game to avoid injuries ahead of the playoffs, the defence will have to stay focused and make sure to give the offence good support against a Thunderbirds team that had a chance to beat the Dinos earlier in the season.
“There’s always going to be a bit of added pressure,” said first-year defensive lineman Cory Robinson on the chance to have a perfect season. “But we’re trying to come into it just looking at it as the next game.”
Nill is excited at the opportunity to go 8–0, something the Dinos only accomplished once, which was during the 2011 season when they originally lost their final game to the Thunderbirds but were later awarded the victory due to the use of an ineligible player by UBC.
“To go 8–0, I’ll be honest, personally, I would like to accomplish this,” said Nill. “It’s something that would put an exclamation mark on the kind of regular season we had.”
That being said, Nill is approaching the game with caution.
“We’re not going to play guys who would probably benefit from rest,” said Nill. “We’re not going to take chances with players. We’re going to go out and play our game, and probably make a lot of substitutions during the game.”