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2012 Canada West Preview: UBC Thunderbirds

2011 Record: 0-8, sixth in Canada West (6-2 before they were forced to vacate their wins due to using an ineligible player the entire season). 246 points for (second in Canada West) and 190 points against (third in Canada West).

Head Coach: Shawn Olson, third season as head coach (2-14 all-time record).

Key Losses: DE Connor Flynn, LB Devin Cavanagh, LB Adam Konar, C Jordy Kyle, OT Patrick Sullivan, RB Dave Boyd, WR Spencer Betts, DT Serge Kaminsky, CB Chris Mark, HB Sam Carino, HB Levar Hayden, SB Mitch Shuster

Key Additions: RB Taylor Souster, OL Alec Pennell, OL Jas Dhillon, DB Adam Seniuk, DB Miguel Barker

Key Offensive Starters: QB Billy Greene, RB Sam Adu, WR David Scott, WR Jordan Grieve, OT Kelly Kurisu,

Key Defensive Starters: DL Martin Park, LB Vivie Bojilov, DB Kofi Kuma-Mintah, DL Spencer Wilson

Outlook: UBC was hit hard in the offseason. And, no, I’m not referring to the punishment leveled at them by the Canada West for using ineligible player Connor Flynn the entire season (for which they were justly punished, consistent with the precedent set in the 2009 punishment of Manitoba and SFU for using ineligible players, a punishment which cost Manitoba a trip to the playoffs).

Attrition is actually a bigger concern for last year’s Hardy finalists, especially on defence. UBC lost their top seven defensive players from last season, including Canada West all-star defensive lineman Serge Kaminsky, second team all-Canadian Sam Carino, veteran linebacker Devin Kavanagh and four of five starting defensive backs. They will be difficult enough to replace, but UBC must also deal with the loss of Adam Konar, the linebacker who, in his first year, led the team with 41 tackles and added four passes defended, including one interception. Konar has joined the BCFC’s Langley Rams.

Huskies safety Bryce McCall and UBC receiver Micha Theil jump for a ball (photo by Matt Smith for Liam Richards Photography).

Gone are the contributors who put up eight of their 11 interceptions and who were responsible for 11 of their 14 sacks on defence. This is a big hit to a defence that was mediocre at best last season, one which finished just ahead of the winless Alberta Golden Bears, giving up an average of 502.6 yards of offence to the opposition per game. UBC was easy to run on, allowing 1859 yards through eight games, and losing players like Kaminsky, Kavanagh and Konar won’t help that. UBC recruited some junior talent to shore up their secondary, which lost three starters, but it looks like they’ll be hoping for another rookie phenom or two to step up into their front seven as Konar did last year.

Luckily for the Thunderbirds, Hec Crighton trophy winner Billy Greene and the majority of his receiving corps return. Greene, who led the Canada West in passing with 2558 yards and 20 touchdowns, to go along with his leading 482 yards and four touchdowns, will need to at least repeat his performance from last year if the Thunderbirds are to remain in the top four. This year, he will do it without the help of running back Dave Boyd, who had 469 yards rushing in six games last year, but he will have fourth-year veteran Sam Adu, who was able to put up 115 yards in limited playing time last season, as well as former Edmonton Wildcat Taylor Souster, who was second in the PFC with 605 yards last season.

Running back Dexter Janke is tackled by a UBC defender (photo Liam Richards)

Second-team all-Canadian wideout Jordan Grieve returns for his fifth year after leading Canada West with 768 yards receiving in 2011. David Scott and Micha Theil also return for their fourth years after they both finished in the top ten in receiving in the conference last season. The Thunderbirds will need to replace veterans Spencer Betts Canada West all-star Mitch Shuster, both of whom were go-to receivers for Greene at times over the last three seasons.

Up front, the Thunderbirds return three of five starting offensive linemen, including fourth-year tackle Kelly Kurisu. One of their top recruits in the offseason was 6’6″ tackle Alec Pennell, a CJFL all-Canadian last season with the Vancouver Island Raiders. He will be a good replacement for departed veteran Patrick Sullivan at left tackle.

Because of Billy Greene, the Thunderbirds should be a competitive team again this year. However, the many glaring gaps on defence are enough to question if the high-powered passing attack will be enough. It should be and will likely keep UBC in the hunt for a playoff spot to the end, but fourth place is much more likely than second, this season.