Simon Fraser University Clan
2008 Record: 5-3, Fourth in Canada West
Lost in the Hardy Cup final to the Calgary Dinos
Head Coach: Dave Johnson (3rd year)
Key Losses: FB Josh Havey, RB Marek Seta, LB Thomas Peirce, WR Tyson Buchannon, WR Jeff Biles, OL Bryan Thiessen, OL Taylor Buis, OL Valentin Gruber
Key Additions: RB Cale Inglis, WR Matt Chapdelaine, OL Matt Bergeron, OL Blair Warr, DE Daniel Cordick, DT Cole Buchamer, LB Tyler Duncan, OL Scott Johnson
Key Returning Players: LB Chris Folk (36 tackles, 1.5 sacks), DB Anthony DesLauriers (20.5 tackles, 4 interceptions), QB Bernd Dittrich (1199 yards, 6 touchdowns), RB Gabriel Ephard (360 yards, 1 touchdown in 4 games)
Outlook: The Clan made a big turnaround last year, finishing 5-3 and making their way not only to the playoffs but to the Hardy Cup final. After four years out of the playoffs, including three successive 0-8 campaigns, former UBC coach Dave Johnson brought in some significant talent, leaning heavily on the CJFL, and it paid off.
Many wrote the Clan off prior to last season, but they proved to be a serious contender right out of the gate, winning three of their first four games. This was thanks in large part to a defence that had key contributions from players such as linebacker turned defensive end Brian Ridgeway and linebacker Thomas Pierce. They were part of a defence by committee approach that worked well for the Clan, especially in their front seven, where four members placed in the top 25 tacklers in the league. Of that group, linebacker Pierce has graduated and Ridgeway enters the season with health problems that may keep him sidelined indefinitely. However, in addition to some blue chip recruits, linebackers Chris Folk and Mark Bailey return, as do defensive linemen like third year end Scott Puffer, second year end Justin Capicciotti, and fifth year tackle John Reeves, which should keep the front seven solid.
The defensive secondary returns key veterans like second team all-Canadian Anthony DesLauriers, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats draft pick Ray Wladichuk. Fourth year player Nigel Palma and fifth year players Aeron Kawakami and Nick Shuster round out a veteran defence that should give opposing offences trouble this season.
On offence, the Clan will be making some big changes as they lose three starting offensive linemen, leading receiver Jeff Biles, fourth leading receiver Tyson Buchannon, and leading rusher Marek Seta. The departure of key receivers will mean the Clan will need strong seasons from fourth year player Spencer Watt, third year player Tony Strong, fifth year player Milos Zivkovic and former Alberta Golden Bear Matt Chapdelaine. They will also need better health from their running backs, particularly starter Gabe Ephard, who was near the team lead in yards gained in spite of being limited to four games. Brandon Halverson, who is heading into his fourth year, played well in Ephard’s absence, and should see plenty of touches again this year.
At quarterback, returning starter Bernd Dittrich, who is entering his third year, was as much, or perhaps more of, a threat on the ground as he was through the air. He was near the team lead in rushing during the regular season, and his scrambling ability opened a lot of receivers up down field. With three new starting offensive linemen in front of him, he will likely need to use this speed again to escape opposing defences and create opportunities.
With the amount of turnover on this roster, some may be thinking that the Clan will take a step back. However, Dave Johnson and his staff showed that they were able to get the job done last year by using a rotating cast of contributors on both sides of the ball. It’s likely we’ll see more of the same this season from an SFU team that should be in each game and contend for a playoff spot.