AUS football pre-season training camps get underway for 2017 season

File photo by Nick Pearce
File photo by Nick Pearce
By: Monty Mosher

It's time for AUS football.

No, seriously. No need to check the calendar.

With the addition of the Bishop's Gaiters to the AUS roster for the 2017 season, football training camps open for business today with exhibition action next weekend.

Change is a constant in university sport and the four traditional AUS schools will be dealing with of plenty of it, not just with the early camp start but the bye weeks that come with a five-team schedule.

Nowhere is the change more pronounced that with the St. Francis Xavier X-Men, who set out for a third straight conference title without Tivon Cook, their MVP quarterback.

Head coach Gary Waterman will enter camp without a starter in mind and allow one to emerge.
Cook was brilliant in his senior season in X-Men colours, throwing for more than 2,500 yards and 21 touchdowns. He leaves as St. F.X.'s all-time leading passer.

Also moving on are left tackle Vernon Sainvil, the conference lineman of the year and a perennial all-Canadian. Defensive lineman Kay Okafor got drafted into the CFL and defensive back Hayden Peters just made big plays every week in Antigonish.

"We are extremely excited for the 2017 football season in the new-look AUS," Waterman said. "The addition of the Bishop's Gaiters is sure to add another level of excitement to our conference, and the St. F.X. X-Men are looking to once again be a competitive football team this season.

"While we have a number of key starters returning on our roster, some young players will be asked to fill a few roles left vacant due to graduation, and I'm looking forward to seeing who steps up and takes advantage of the opportunity. It's sure to be another exciting year of football in the AUS conference, and we are looking forward to taking the field for the 2017 campaign."

There are no fears of a bare cupboard at St. F.X., 7-1 last season.

Jordan Socholotiuk, the conference's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009, is back. He was selected to the all-Canadian second team.

Receivers Kaion Julien-Grant, a first-team all-Canadian, and Dejuan Martin, on the second all-Canadian team, were as good a pass-catching duo as there was in the nation.

Defensive end Kyle Forde, a strong pass rusher, and linebacker Adam Kuntz, a steady tackler, will be some of the leaders of the defence.

The Mount Allison Mounties, in the conference final for each of the past four seasons, return with an established quarterback in Jacob Loucks, even though he was a rookie in 2016. Loucks, the U Sports rookie of the year, threw for 1,325 and got the Mounties to the final.

Running back Chris Reid, second in conference rushing a year ago, receiver Malik Richards and offensive lineman Andre Goguen will be the face of the offence, which loses receiver Dakota Brush and lineman Matt Zwicker.

Lineman Donovan Glave, linebacker Damian Halstead and backs Nate Rostek and Devante Sampson will be key to the defensive group.

Lineman Jordan Redding, linebacker Kyle Horsman and backs Dylan Cossar and Mike Bohar are among the sizable losses. Many of the departing Mounties were part of back-to-back title teams in 2013-14.

"We're very excited for the start of the 2017 season," said head coach Scott Brady, who went 3-5 in his first year replacing Kelly Jeffrey. "We had great effort and commitment throughout our off-season program and we have improved over the past eight months.

"We have a good group of returnees and some talented newcomers that we're excited about.  We're also thrilled about the addition of Bishop's to the AUS and we expect the league to be as competitive as it's ever been.  Every single week will be a battle and we'll have to play well and improve every week in order to succeed."

The Acadia Axemen under head coach Jeff Cummins have lost the semifinal for four straight seasons after winning back-to-back in 2011 and 2012.

Acadia will lean on all-Canadian free safety Brandon Jennings, defensive tackles Adam Melanson and Brady Switzer and linebacker Matt Nettle on the defensive side.

Quarterback Cody Cluett gives the offence a veteran presence at the position.

Offensive linemen Ethan Charters, Shelton Williams and Jacob Creedon, all 2015 starters, return from significant injuries. So does middle linebacker Jesse Boudreau, who broke his leg in the first game of last season.

The Axemen, 2-6 last year, lose receivers Sab Robinson and Eli Prochnau, defensive backs Harland Hastings and Will Wojcik and running back Dillon Fortune.

"We look forward to getting started in 2017 with our very early pre-season matchup at home versus Saint Mary's on Aug. 19 and then travelling to Sackville on Aug. 26 to begin what looks like a wide open AUS conference. Our staff and players want to wish everyone a healthy and happy 2017 season. Best of luck to all."

Saint Mary's, out of the playoffs for the past three seasons, came up a yard short of the post-season on the final play of the regular season.

But the Huskies went 2-6 under first-year head coach James Colzie III after two straight winless years under Perry Marchese.

Saint Mary's will need a quarterback to replace Brock Berglund, a former NCAA player who is not back.

Offensive lineman Marcus MacIsaac was a steady force up front.

Nick Bartolacci and Dryden Ferjo are back on the offensive line. Running back Leo Mantuilla and receivers Rick LeMoignan and Lerone Robinson have some experience.

Defensive ends Jadarius Ceasar and John Cole, linebacker Emmanuel Agbozo and first-team all-Canadian DeAndre Smith and defensive back Mandella Loggale helped the team in the right directiona year ago.

Eleven defensive starters return.

"It was a long off-season after coming up a yard short from possibly hosting a playoff game," said Colzie, who brings in the best recruiting class for the school in years.

"I'm extremely excited about the recruiting class coming in and it's up to me to make sure they mesh correctly with our double-digit starters that are returning.  We found some offensive Lineman that can contribute early and our starting defensive line is returning. We all know it's important to be tough in the trenches."

Three of those recruits are offensive linemen Jake Hall (6-9, 335), Tyler Clucas-Warren (6-8, 325) and Adam Wagner (6-7, 325).

St. F.X., Mount Allison and Guelph will play an exhibition mini-event next Saturday afternoon in Antigonish.

St. F.X. is at Saint Mary's to start the regular season for a night game on Aug. 25 with Acadia at Mount Allison for a matinee for the following day. Bishop's get its first AUS action the following weekend at Acadia.

Stay tuned for next week's preview on the AUS conference's newest team—the Bishop's Gaiters. 

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