The 2013-14 football season was a year of promise for the University of Manitoba Bisons. A 5-3 finish, their best record since winning the Vanier Cup in 2007, and a Hardy Cup berth showed that Manitoba is taking strides in the right direction.
With eight of 12 starters on defence, and 10 of 12 starters on offense returning to the fold in 2014, the upcoming edition of Bison football should be an exciting team to watch.
In preparation, the Manitoban has taken the time to preview each individual position heading into main camp, and what fans can expect to see.
The quarterback conversation starts and ends with Jordan Yantz.
A conference all-star in his first year as a Bison in 2013, the Regina product returns for his final season of CIS eligibility. The 23-year-old is hoping to build off of an outstanding campaign, where he was first in the Canada West conference in both passing yards, (2,474) as well as touchdowns (25).
Yantz has had quite the off-season, participating in both the East West Bowl and Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp, and enters 2014 primed and ready for another big year.
For the first time in three seasons, a running back not named Anthony Coombs will start for Manitoba. The Winnipeg native was taken by Toronto in the first round of the 2014 CFL draft, leaving a relatively large void to fill.
But the position shouldn’t see a drop in production in 2014, with fourth-year veteran Kienan LaFrance stepping in.
LaFrance has gone through the ranks of football in Manitoba – winning a Winnipeg High School Football League championship alongside Coombs in 2008, as well as being named the Prairie Football Conference’s outstanding offensive player in 2010 with the Winnipeg Rifles.
LaFrance has had previous success in the backfield for Manitoba (467 rushing yards in 2012), and with the job now his for the taking, he should be in for a breakout season. Fourth-year fullback Andrew Barry—a captain last season—will also be instrumental in ensuring that LaFrance has room to run.
Manitoba will retain most of its receiving corps this year, with the biggest loss being slot back and captain Andrew Smith, who was drafted by the Montreal Alouettes. Danny Turek—a former Canadian Junior Football League all-Canadian in 2009 with the Okanagan Sun, and mainstay at slot back for Manitoba in 2012—makes his return in 2014. He missed last year due to personal reasons, but looks to have an immediate impact in place of Smith.
Nic Demski and Alex Vitt both return to the paddock in 2014, and are expected to build off of their respective numbers in 2013.
Look for Demski, a three-time conference all-star, to potentially put up record-breaking numbers this year. He finished second in Canada West in receiving yards last season (640).
Receivers (Wide out)
The 2014 season could very well be the Vancouver Island show at the wide out position.
Both Matt Sawyer (nine receiving touchdowns in 2012 with V.I.) and Dustin Pederson (574 receiving yards in 2012 with V.I.) enter their second year with the Bisons, and add immediate chemistry with their former Raider teammate Jordan Yantz. With one year in the system, the two junior football standouts appear ready to make the leap forward in the CIS.
Manitoba retains all five of its starters on the offensive line, who paved the way for over 1,800 yards on the ground last year. Fifth-year centre Tyler Fabbri will anchor the big men, along with 2013 conference all-star Alex McKay, at the tackle position. Look for Geoff Gray to step up as well, heading into his sophomore season.
Defence (Interior Lineman)
Both starters from 2013 will suit up yet again, led by Evan Gill. A conference all-star last year, Gill was drafted in the first round by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but opted to return to school this year. With pro-ready ability, as proven by his trip to the East-West Shrine Game, as well as CFL selection, look for Gill to have a monster campaign at the defensive tackle position.
Joining him for a second consecutive season will be David Onyemata, a native of Lagos, Nigeria. Onyemata recorded 17 tackles and a sack in his first full year as a starter in 2013. Look for him to build off of that success in 2014.
Lauren Kroeker, a captain last season, returns for his final year with the Bisons in 2014. He has amassed a total of 126 tackles over four seasons with the herd, and should be consistent again off the edge.
Ranji Atwall, another captain in 2013, has finished off his CIS eligibility, leaving the other end position vacant. The battle for the starting spot should be quite intriguing, with two former junior football and British Columbia Football Conference all-stars, Tyler Lee (Kamloops) and Evan Foster (Langley), leading the way.
Manitoba retains just one starting linebacker from last season, with Bami Adewale returning at the weak side position. He led the team in solo tackles last season with 37, while adding two sacks. That production should continue in 2014.
With Thomas Miles’ selection by the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL draft, the Bisons have a need at the middle linebacker position. Look for DJ Lalama, a local standout at Saint Paul’s High School and special teams phenom last year, to step up.
The strong side linebacker spot will feature an interesting battle between Riley Wiggett (15 solo tackles, one sack) and Jonathan Jones, another standout from Vancouver Island.
The secondary was a position of weakness for Manitoba last year; however, with numerous veterans back, that trend shouldn’t continue in 2014.
Brett MacFarlane (25 solo tackles, 1 INT) and Cam Teschuk (24 solo tackles, 2 INT) lead the way at halfback and corner, respectively. Look for Tremaine Apperley (led team with six pass breakups), Jordan Linnen, and Jayden McCoy to factor in as well.