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2012 Canada West Preview: Alberta Golden Bears

2011 Record: 2-6, fifth in Canada West (0-8 and sixth in Canada West before UBC’s wins were stripped). 123 points for (sixth) and 353 points against (sixth).

Head Coach: Jeff Stead, second year as head coach (2-6).

Key Losses: S Jason Hetherington, QB Julian Marchand, OL Nic Ternovatsky, OL Will Henry, RB KK Sonuga, WR Laine Rogers, SB Porter Brown, WR Brad Quartel

Key Additions: OL Jacob Brett, DL Troy Weissbach, OL Aaron Osczevski, RB Aundrey Webster, DB Cole Bishop, DB Cody Hillhouse, DB Brennan Van Nistelrooy, K/P Stephen Fabian

Key Offensive Starters: WR Jess Valleau, SB Brad Quartel, OL Eli Hankinson

Key Defensive Starters: CB Brent Krawchuk, LB Tyler Greenslade, LB Duncan Morris, LB Connor Ralph, DL Greg Severin

Outlook: There is only one way to go for the winless Alberta Golden Bears, and that’s up. After fielding an overall young and inexperienced lineup last year, the Bears look like they may repeat their sixth place finish with another young lineup, but they will likely be able to pull off a win or two thanks to the experience their young players received last year.

In spite of having an excellent set of linebackers, including Duncan Morris, who had 47.5 tackles and five sacks in 2011, and rookie Connor Ralph, who finished with 44 tackles, three sacks and interception, the Bears defence gave up 353 points and 4194 yards of offence. This year, although they lose safety Jason Hetherington, who led the Bears in tackles with 61.5 and tied for the team lead with two interceptions, Bears head coach Jeff Stead must be expecting his defence to make an overall improvement, especially in the number of yards allowed.

Running back Dexter Janke of the Huskies is tackled by two Bears, including defensive back Chad Kaminski (photo by Liam Richards)

Certainly, the addition (for the third year) of defensive tackle Steven Giang will help them take steps to stopping the run, as they surrendered an average of 248 yards per game. Adding the likes of BCFC veterans Cole Bishop, Cody Hillhouse and Brennan Van Nistelrooy (who had 5 interceptions as a BCFC all-star with the Okanagan Sun) to the secondary, while retaining the services of their lone 2011 Canada West all-star Brent Krawchuk, may allow them to take baby-steps towards improving upon their league-worst average of 276 yards per game.

On offence, the Bears will be turning to a new starting quarterback, likely Curtis Dell, who had 444 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions as Alberta’s backup last season. He will be challenged by fellow third-year pivot Ryan Schwartz, who the Alberta coaching staff is hoping will pose a serious threat to take the starting position with a combination of arm-strength and speed outside the pocket.

The quarterbacks will have a couple veteran receivers to throw to, including Jess Valleau, who had 267 yards and one touchdown last season, and third-year player Ryley Richardson. Two receivers who are moving into their second years on the team, Dillon Prince and Yembeh Moiba, should both be reliable targets for their quarterbacks this season.

Alberta’s running game will be relied on heavily, although running back KK Sonuga, who had 555 net yards rushing and six touchdowns last season, will not be back this season. Second year running back Tyler Lewis is expected to shoulder some of the reps running back, but he may not see the field much if new recruit Aundrey Webster has a good training camp. The fast and elusive Webster is seen by many as the top running back prospect coming out of Edmonton this year, and a top three prospect in Alberta.

A solid offensive line is critical for the offense to function this year, and the loss of stalwarts Nic Turnovatsky and Will Henry leave two gaping holes to fill. The addition of Aaron Osczevski from the BCFC’s Kamloops Broncos will help, as he can potentially fill the centre position vacated by Ternovatsky. It will be the maturation of young players like Eli Hankinson, who started as a rookie at right tackle, and third-year players Kyle Rowland and Stefane Kreiner that will determine the fate of this offence.

Luke Thiel avoids a tackle by Lane Dell while returning a punt (photo by Liam Richards)

Overall, the Bears should be better than the winless team they put on the field last season. That year of experience will pay off, and while it may not lead to a playoff position this year, it will likely payoff down the line. However, any team who is not prepared and takes the Bears for granted may find the Bears are further along than they thought. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears steal a couple wins this season.

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