Heading into the 2012 Canada West football season, the Bisons are looking to improve upon a frustrating 4-4 regular season record in 2011 which left the team just outside the playoff picture.
From August 16 to 30, the practice fields on campus will be buzzing with activity as 87 athletes battle for the opportunity to start when the Bisons open the Canada West regular season. On Sept. 1 the Herd travels to the West Coast to play the UBC Thunderbirds. Out of those competing for positions, 32 are new recruits hoping to crack the roster.
Head coach Brian Dobie and quarterback coach John Mackie will have their hands full as the departure of starting quarterback Khaleal Williams will likely prove to be the biggest gap to fill on offence.
Competition for the position is fierce, as Dobie indicated that heading into training camp there was no clear frontrunner for first-string QB. The two returning Bison pivots—Cam Clark and Marc Paquette—are in a tight battle with two new quarterback recruits: Ryan Marsch and Theo Deezar.
Marsch joins the Bisons after a successful 2011 season in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) at the helm of the Winnipeg Rifles’ offence. Marsch received the Peter Dalla Riva award, which is awarded to the CJFL Most Outstanding Offensive Player. Deezar was also quite successful in 2011, as he led the St. Paul Crusaders to H.S. championship and a perfect 10-0 regular season.
Sticking in the backfield, the Bison run game should be a force in 2012. Running back Anthony Coombs will look to improve on a stellar rookie season with the Herd, in which he was named CIS First Team All-Canadian after compiling 1,203 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns during the 2011 regular season. Coombs was also the first student athlete from the University of Manitoba to be featured in the 56-year history of the ‘Faces in the Crowd’ section in Sports Illustrated, for his MVP performance for Team World at the 2012 International Bowl.
Nic Demski is another weapon on offense that also pitches in on special teams. Demski, who shared backfield duties with Coombs in 2011, made a huge impact as a kick returner – returning two kick-offs for touchdowns (tying a CIS record) and finishing the season with a kick return average of 31.6 yards (third best in the CIS). Dobie was impressed with the level of depth at running-back, saying that this could be the strongest backfield in the nation.
At wide receiver, the Bisons will have to rely on some new recruits to help fill the void after the departure of their top two recievers – Jared Ralko and Stu Schollaardt. Wide receiver Matt Lariviere and slotbacks Alex Vitt and Derek Dean were all teammates with Marsch on the Winnipeg Rifles in 2011 when he threw for over 3000 yards and 31 touchdowns.
WR Danny Turek and SB Andrew Smith, two exciting recruits from the CJFL British Columbia Football Conference (BCFC), join the Bisons with impressive football resumes. Turek, in four seasons with the Okanagan Suns from 2008-11, was named BCFC All-Star three times (08’, 09’ and 11’), while Smith was named CJFL All-Canadian at the receiver position and co-winner of the 2011 BCFC Outstanding Reciever award after catching 42 passes for 799 yards and 13 touchdowns.
No matter the talent running, throwing, and catching the ball, if there isn’t a solid offensive line in place, there’s going to be trouble. The Bisons will have to replace Justin Yakiwchuk, who started in 2011, but will have fifth-year veteran guards Landon Rice and Scott Johnson to help hold off the opposing defence and provide the quarterback time to make plays.
Check out the next issue of The Manitoban for a breakdown of the 2012 Bison defense.
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On a coaching note, former CFL Winnipeg Blue Bomber center Obby Khan will no longer be joining the Bison coaching staff as an assistant ‘O’-line coach. After retiring from the CFL in April, Khan signed on to help sixth-year offensive line coach Terry Watson for the 2012 season. But an offer from the Calgary Stampeders to come out of retirement was too good to turn down, and as such Khan will not be with the Bison program in 2012.
Dobie said the news did not come as much of a surprise, as the two had talked about the prospect of coming out of retirement—and Khan’s new duties as a budding restauranteur—possibly interfering with his commitment to coach with the Bisons.