University of Alberta Golden Bears
2008 Record: 2-6, seventh in Canada West
Head Coach: Jerry Friesen (9th year)
Key Losses: OT Simeon Rottier, OG Gord Hinse, LB Scott Stevenson, DE Greg Whalen, DT Kyle Pagnucco, DT Brett Waine, HB Paul Irwin, WR Damon Fraietta, WR Aaron Holba
Key Additons: OT Will Henry, QB Julian Marchand, RB Harpeet Turka, WR Ryan Meraw, LB Bo Onyschuk, DE Cory Kuzik, DB Hayden Bell, DB Lane Dell
Key Returning Players: S Jason Heatherington (52.5 tackles, 2 interceptions), DE Craig Gerbrandt (44.5 tackles, 6 sacks), WR Mike Wasyliniuk (360 yards receiving, 1 touchdown), RB Tendayi Jozzy (532 yards rushing, 4 touchdowns).
Outloook: The U of A Golden Bears started strong and ended strong in 2008, with wins over the two teams that would play in the Hardy Cup. Unfortunately, they went on a six-game losing streak in between those games, a streak which ended any hopes of the Bears returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Jerry Friesen and his staff are obviously hoping for a better result this year, and they should get closer, thanks to a strong recruiting year. The most notable player coming in is former Calgary Dino and Calgary Colt quarterback Julian Marchand, who will compete with incumbent Quade Armstrong. The Bear’s quarterbacks will need to depend on an offensive line that has to replace both of their tackles: Gord Hinse made the Edmonton Eskimos and first overall draft pick Simeon Rottier made the Hamilton Tiger Cats. The return of former Edmonton Wildcats Terris Palliwoda and Nic Ternovatsky along with third year guard Chris Kaminski should provide stability as they transition players like CJFL all-Canadian Will Henry, who joins the Bears after a successful junior career with the Winnipeg Rifles.
Fifth year player Tendayi Jozzy is the incumbent tailback, but he will face stiff competition from Harpeet Turka, another CJFL all-Canadian from the Winnipeg Rifles. The loss of leading receivers Aaron Holba and Damon Fraietta will hurt, but returning receivers Mike Wasylyniuk and Matthew Orlicz and will provide options for the quarterbacks, as will former Edmonton Huskie Ryan Meraw, who should be an immediate contributor.
On defence, the Bears return an impressive secondary and linebacking crew, one which had the third best pass defense statistics in Canada West in 2008. Safety Jason Heatherington and halfback Dean Guedo both head into their third year of eligibility, while corners Brent Krawchuck and Daniel Bedeau enter their second year in the program. Fifth year player Dan Bass and fourth year player Jean-Marc Jones return to lead the linebackers, who lose Scott Stevenson to graduation.
The defensive line was not as fortunate as the secondary when it comes to turnover. Although they return fourth year defensive end Craig Gerbrandt, they lose top tacklers such as Greg Whelan, who joined the Edmonton Eskimos, Brett Waine, who joined the Vancouver Island Raiders of the BCFC, and Kyle Pagnucco, who graduated. 2008 BCFC sack leader Corey Kuzik, who played for the Okanagan Sun, should help ease the pain, but it remains to be seen who will step in for the big bodies of Waine and Pagnucco in the middle.
Overall, the Golden Bears look to have improved, although question marks remain throughout the roster. Should they click on offence, they will likely challenge for the final playoff spot in the conference.