It’s hard to believe how quickly attention turns to fall and the Huskie football season! The Huskies will be taking the field for their first game of the season, a non-conference matchup with the Guelph Gryphons, next Friday at Griffiths Stadium. Earlier today, the Gryphons’ head coach, Stu Lang, was kind enough to take 20 minutes out of his busy schedule in order to speak with Huskie Outsider about the Gryphon program, next week’s matchup with the Huskies, the 2012 season, and his thoughts about having an inter-conference game built into each team’s annual schedule.
There is optimism surrounding the Guelph program as they have been upgrading their facilities and are coming off of a successful offseason on the recruiting trail. “The advice I got, when I began my career as a head coach (2010), regarding hiring staff, was to make sure that your staff are great recruiters. That was good advice; my staff doesn’t mind staying out late at night in the cold weather in order to get 5 – 15 minute talks with 15, 16, and 17 year olds. This has really born fruit. My offensive coordinator, Todd Galloway, my defensive coordinator, Kevin MacNeill, and the other coaches have just done a wonderful job. This year, especially, we had a lot of holes on the offensive line and Mike MacDonald, our OLine coach, brought in a handful of guys that played for Team Ontario or played on all-star teams – we’re quite excited. We’ve added a wonderful receiver from Nova Scotia, A’dre Fraser, who was one of the best players in the maritimes and played for Team Canada in the most recent under-19 championship. We’ve also added a receiver from B.C., in Mike Carney. This is the first time Guelph’s history, to my knowledge, that we’ve brought in two recruits from opposite ends of the county. Todd Galloway used to be on the staff at Saint Mary’s, and Kevin MacNeill used to coach special teams at UBC, so this has given our program some connections to different parts of the country.” Coach Lang then went on to describe their relatively inexperienced roster. “We have a very young team. Last year, most of our key positions were manned by first-year guys. Outside of maybe York or Waterloo, we may have the youngest team in the OUA, but it bodes well for the future.”
Coach Lang is now entering his third year as Guelph’s head coach, and he was asked if that changes his expectations regarding his program. “Historically, Guelph has sort of been a middle-of-the-road team. We’re trying get into that elite level. We talk a lot about sustained success – we don’t want to just have one good year. How do we build a team that is going to be 5-3, 6-2, 7-1, or possibly 8-0 on a routine basis? We’ve started with some things such as renovating the lockers and building arguably the best workout centre in the OUA conference. We’re excited about our new turf that is being installed right now. We’re hoping these upgrades will attract recruits, which will provide success. We’re not there yet; generally speaking, a coach is given 4 years because that’s a recruiting cycle, so from my standpoint we’re halfway there. We’ll just keep building”.
When it comes to setting goals for the 2012 season, Coach Lang believes in leaving that to the players. “Following our last spring practice, we have a team dinner where the team captains will present the goals for the upcoming season. They talked to the players, met as a group, and then presented the goals. There are normally 4 or 5 goals each year – one is always to win the Yates. One of our goals is to come out of the gate much faster, because we’ve been slow starters. So, we’ll actually start evaluating our first quarter performances.” Lang then went on to jokingly state that “I get pressure from my boss for a home playoff game, so I know what his goal is. But from our standpoint the goals are more about improvement and being better at certain aspects of our game, as opposed to saying that we’re going to be 6 – 2.”
The Gryphons were looking to play a non-conference game this season, and Coach Lang was excited to receive a phone call, and invite, from Huskies’ head coach, Brian Towriss. “I was so excited when I received the call from Brian,” he stated. “I wanted to play a preseason game, as much for the coaches to get their act together as well as seeing the rookies perform. The last thing I want to do is play somebody that we’ll face in the next two months. I wanted to take the guys out of province and, preferably, fly. This is about teaching the guys; hopefully at some point during their careers they’ll have to travel to play a Vanier Cup or something, and this will be part of that training. I can’t thank Brian, his staff, and the organizers, enough; we’ve been quite demanding in terms of meeting rooms and practice times…they’ve been phenomenal. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great test – I know that western football is tough. I’ve actually encouraged our event staff to come out, because I’ve heard wonderful things about the Huskies’ game day experience, and I’ve seen some clips on youtube – you guys do it right!”
One topic that has been on the minds of Coach Towriss, the Huskie football program, and our fans, has been the idea of an interlock, or out-of-conference, game being on each team’s annual schedule, perhaps during the Thanksgiving long weekend. Coach Lang was asked for his reaction to this. “Joe Paopao, the head coach at Waterloo, said something interesting at our OUA meeting, that if we want to prepare our players for the CFL, we’ll have to play more games. I thought that was such a simple idea that I was wondering why I hadn’t thought of it. Something like that would be great, but I wouldn’t necessarily want it to count in a team’s standings. It would be great for the players. Thanksgiving is a great idea as to when it could take place. Unfortunately, a lot of times things like this come down to schools and money.”
As far as next week’s non-conference game, the Gryphons have received some 2011 game film, of the Huskies, to study. “Brian and I agreed to exchange video of the last two regular season games. Both my offensive and defensive coordinators played against the University of Saskatchewan when they were at Laurier, so we have a little sense of what to expect.” While coming away with a victory would certainly please Coach Lang, he does have other goals for the game as well. “I want to make sure that all of my players get a chance. It’s low risk – if we lose it doesn’t hurt us in the standings. I’ll have a chance to play my third string quarterback, who’s a rookie, for part of the game. I’ve got to see him under battle conditions. We typically put together 3 or 4 squads, and they’ll each play a quarter, or a quarter and a half.”
The Gryphons will be playing a style of offence that Coach Lang likes to describe as “simple complexity”. “We want to be complex to our opponent, but simple to ourselves. Basically, that means running the same plays from a variety of formations and motions. We’ve stolen an idea from the University of Oregon where we have a forms period – we just run formations and motions and don’t cross the line of scrimmage. In a minute we can probably run about 10 plays. On defence, one of the reasons that I hired Kevin MacNeill was that I liked his swagger – I thought that the defence needed this. We’ll be more of a blunt instrument, so to speak, as opposed to a knife. We want to be hostile. Each year, Kevin chooses an item to symbolize our defence, and this year it’s a lunchbox. He feels that we don’t have superstars, but we have guys who come to work and do a good job.”
Coach Lang was asked if he could identify a couple of Gryphon players, on each side of the ball, for Huskie fans to keep an eye on. “Our QB, Jazz Lindsay, is what I would call sort of a U.S. style of quarterback; he has a good arm but can also run with the ball. He runs the option/zone read plays quite well. I’ve already mentioned the receiver A’dre Fraser – he’s fleet of foot and we’re expecting good things from him. On defense, Jordan Thompson is a rookie defensive end who is lightning fast and creates a lot of headaches for the offensive line. And our middle linebacker, John Rush, is a team captain and is going to be our leader of the future.”
As we finished our conversation, Coach Lang again expressed some praise for the Huskie organization. “You guys do things so well out there. One of the things I learned from my business background is to ‘steal with pride’. We’ll be taking notes and pictures, and will come back from our trip with a lot of good ideas.”
Thank you to Coach Lang for talking football with Huskie Outsider. We look forward to seeing the Gryphons in action against our Dogs, next Friday. If you haven’t yet purchased your tickets for the game vs. Guelph, you can do so by phoning 966-1111.