By Rachneet Randhawa, September 21 2021—
It has been nearly twenty-one months since the Dinos Football team played the 2019 Vanier Cup Championship and almost two years later they are set to relaunch the 2021-2022 football season with a bold combination of strength and resilience. The comeback kickoff commences on Sept. 25th against the Saskatchewan Huskies at McMahon Stadium. The Gauntlet sat down for an interview with coach Wayne Harris to learn more.
Being the longest off-season in Dinos history, Harris reflected on how the rest of the Dinos team is feeling.
“The guys are all very excited,” he said. “They’ve been working hard through the last number of months [in the] last year and a half to get ready to play. It’s been challenging obviously with all the shutdowns and the inability to get into gyms and training facilities but they’ve been working hard through the summer and they’re ready to get out of.”
Overall, Harris mentioned that the team’s initial reaction was one of enthusiasm as many of the players pursued football growing up and was a passion of theirs. Having it being taken away from them was offsetting. As for adhering to COVID-9 protocols and safety requirements the biggest concern was training and having normal practices to get the team members back into proper shape — most of which has been progressing slowly and building up to which Harris hopes will gain momentum in the coming weeks ahead. For vaccinations, the majority of the team has either had both or a single dose with the remainder taking care to comply with rapid testing as the game season quickly approaches.
During the shutdown, the training over the past year and a half had mostly been limited due to players not being local and were spread out over the country from Vancouver Island to Quebec. Mostly, team members had to find their methods of training with this past summer being given a first chance to do in-person training again with those who participated looking to be in good shape.
The first opening game of the season is for the Hardy Cup against the Saskatchewan Huskies — a team last challenged in 2019 which has always been a tough and well-prepped nemesis. As for preparation for the game, like every year a training camp is scheduled usually at the beginning of August that prepares players for the first game of the season. But due to restrictions, they’ve had to reduce the schedule and dial it back a few weeks. As students are also of course attending classes as students of the U of C, players must figure out their class schedules with the new hybrid format and there are still some kinks that need to be worked out.
As for getting recruits, it’s typically a year-round process with an add-on of 20 to 30 athletes every year. These recruits are making big adjustments with the transition from high school including studying at the university level. Because of the level of responsibility that comes with post-secondary education and athletics, the onus is on the students to remain accountable to ensure they are keeping up with their coursework and balancing that with the time commitments which can be up to 30 hours a week.
For overall gameplay and strategy, Harris claims they are going to rely on their offence to carry them through the games with a lot of the returning players focusing on the offensive side of the ball and defensively they are looking forward to many new players entering the lineup. The greatest challenge is to “quickly learn the speed of the game at this level and to be able to understand the playbook,” according to Harris. Moreover, their star quarterback, Josiah Joseph, an academic all-Canadian has been on the team for five years but has mostly been serving in a backup role.
Lately, he has had more key opportunities to lead the team and Harris is looking forward to the energetic leadership he brings to the team for his last season before he graduates. Harris mentioned one challenge they are hoping to overcome this season is adapting to the uncertainty of the game, like getting to know the opponents. Because of the extended time off and with some players now graduated, it’s difficult to get back into the swing of things at play at the high level they’re used to. However, they hope to meet this challenge head-on.
“We have great leadership in our program,” said Harris. “The veteran players have returned [to] understand what they need to do and they’ll carry us through.”
For last remarks, they are excited to be back after being the national champions in 2019 and hopefully will have the opportunity to play for that championship again this year.