For the first time since 2019, University of Guelph Gryphons football players are being put through their workouts on mornings in August during the team’s training camp at Alumni Stadium.
“Is the word ‘normal’ too accentuated right now,” head coach Ryan Sheahan said following one of those on-field workout sessions. “It feels great. Just to see the energy and the excitement in all the athletes because we come to work every day to kind of serve them and make sure their student-athlete experience is premier so the fact that these guys have a lot of enthusiasm at long last being able to have a full training camp in August is sensational to us.”
While mornings are for full-team on-field sessions, the remainder of the day sees players divided into their positional groups for weight-room work, film sessions and playbook study time. They do get back together as a group for their meals.
After the 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic, OUA football teams returned to the field last year for a shortened season. Training camps were held in September and the teams had six-game regular seasons that saw the distance travelled for road games kept to a minimum. The league was also split into east and west divisions.
This year it’s back to the usual with each team getting an eight-game regular season and there’s no restriction on travel. The divisions are also a thing of the past with all 11 teams back in a single division.
“It's great to get back to what we'd consider a regular season with a wide-open OUA and lots of cross-province competition,” Sheahan said. “We're excited about it. It's great to play eight games and everybody gets a couple of non-combatants and a bye. It's exciting times.”
The two teams the Gryphons won’t play during the regular season are the York Lions and the Toronto Varsity Blues while their bye week is set for Oct. 1. While the Gryphons won’t play York in the regular season, they are to get a game with the Lions before their season opener Aug. 27 in London against the Western Mustangs.
“We're going to open up with an exhibition game on Saturday against York to get everybody out there on the field and test their state of readiness,” Sheahan said. “Then we have a few difficult decisions to make to see who we're going to take up the highway and take on the defending national champions.”
That puts some importance on the match against York, especially for the newcomers.
“I think it's important because there's definitely some guys that haven't experienced U Sports football before,” Sheahan said of Saturday’s game. “They're going to see a lot of action and really learn a lot about the pace of the game, the competition, adversity, and we're going to see what football life is like when the bullets are really flying. York is always a very athletic team so they're not to be taken lightly. I know coach (Warren) Craney will have that group of young men ready.”
The Gryphons will go into that game feeling pretty confident about their newcomers and expect to see exactly what they have to offer on the field.
“It was good,” Sheahan said of recruiting. “There's 45 newcomers so we're definitely a young nucleus again, but with the right veteran leadership. I'm excited to see how well we gel and how well we mature because with the younger guys, they've got a lot to learn. But we've got the right vets in fourth and fifth year to kind of guide this group along.”
Saturday’s game is to start at 1 p.m.
The Gryphons have their usual four home games during the regular season. Their home opener is on Labour Day Monday (Sept. 5) against the Windsor Lancers and their Homecoming Game is set for Sept. 24 against the Queen’s Gaels. Both of those games have 1 p.m. start times.
The Gryphons are to kick off the Thanksgiving weekend with a 6 p.m. game on Friday (Oct. 7) against the McMaster Marauders in the Highway 6 Bowl and they’re to complete their regular season at home Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. with a game against the Carleton Ravens on their Senior Day, Think Pink Game.
On the road, the Gryphons are to travel to Ottawa for a noon game against the Ottawa Gee-Gees Sept. 17 and go to Waterloo twice for games against the Waterloo Warriors Sept. 10 and Laurier Golden Hawks Oct. 15. Both of those games carry 1 p.m. starting times.
The Gryphons were 3-3 in league play last year and split a pair of road playoff games, defeating Laurier in the West Division semifinals, but falling to Western in the West Division final.