Guelph Gryphon head coach Kevin MacNeill doesn’t hesitate when asked if this year’s squad is better than last year’s.
“Absolutely,” said MacNeill on Friday as the team hit the turf for the first day of training camp.
“We did lose some good vets who will be sorely missed, but the work this group has put in during the off season has been tremendous and the leadership of this group has been awesome,” said MacNeill.
Guelph finished in sixth place in the 11-team OUA last season with a 3-5 record, their worst record in five years.
They were beaten 17-11 by the McMaster Marauders in the quarter-finals of the playoffs.
The team battled injuries all year long at key positions and never seemed to get on a roll.
One of the good news items of this year’s camp is that two key players that missed all of last season with injury are back in uniform: defensive back Orion Edwards and receiver Jacob Scarfone.
Running back Johnny Augustine is also back for a fifth year, fourth-year quarterback James Roberts will call the shots, veteran kicker Gabe Ferraro returns and linebacker Luke Korol, second in the OUA in tackles last season, generals the defence.
Leading receiver Kade Belyk is also back and Guelph natives Nick Parisotto and Job Reinhart will also be key figures on the defensive side of the ball.
“James Roberts is the hardest worker and the most focused player on our team, he’s got such a high end and cognitive ability in this game, he’s going to be a great coach some day,” MacNeill said.
Key losses from last year’s squad are receivers A’dre Fraser and Ryan Nieuwesteeg, defensive back Tristan Doughlin, running back Daniel Palmer-Salmon and linebacker Andrew Graham.
The brother duo of running back Mack Jones and receiver Colton Jones did not return this season.
MacNeill said he doesn’t want his players looking back at last season or too far ahead this season.
“It’s about just trusting the process, not looking ahead or behind. Being in the moment and looking to continue to improve every day,” the coach said.
A total of 106 players were on the Alumni Stadium turf Friday, including a number of blue chip recruits.
“We had over 20 kids committed before Christmas,” MacNeill said, “including a number of kids that were some top recruits.”
The Gryphons travel to Antigonish, N.S., next weekend for controlled scrimmages against St. Francis Xavier and Mount Allison.
Their eight-game regular season opens at Alumni Stadium Sunday, Aug. 27, at 1 p.m. versus the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Homecoming is Saturday, Sept. 23, against McMaster and they have a bye week on Oct. 7.
Regular season wraps up Oct. 21 in Ottawa against the Carleton Ravens.