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Gryphons football opens camp with eye on young prospects

Six rookie quarterbacks are vying for the starting job for the Aug. 26 season and home opener against Toronto
Head coach Ryan Sheahan of the Guelph Gryphons varsity football team talks to the players at the end of on-field activities at Alumni Stadium during the opening weekend of training camp. The Gryphons are to open their 2023 OUA football season there Aug. 26.

The countdown is on for the Guelph Gryphons football team.

Training camp opened on the weekend and the team is focused on its OUA home and season opener Aug. 26 against the Toronto Varsity Blues.

“I would say that we've had a really good off-season,” head coach Ryan Sheahan said during the opening weekend of the team’s training camp at Alumni Stadium. “The attitude on the team is great. The amount of work the veterans put in indoors, in the weight room and at spring camp was superlatively positive.

"Everybody's excited about the young group that's joined us. We're still a young nucleus, but the beginning of camp is the same year after year. There's a great buzz, a great energy.”

While the camp opened two weeks before the opener, in all reality players have a little over a week to impress the coaching staff and earn a roster spot. Then it’s time to get ready for the game against Toronto.

“The way we describe it is we basically have nine days to prepare Guelph vs. Guelph and get a whole bunch of individual skill work done, tons of install and a lot of
competitive periods,” Sheahan said. “Then everybody across the country will be making their shift to start to focus on their first opponent which is Toronto for us.”

Last year the Gryphons had a preseason game against the York Lions the week before starting its regular season. This year it hasn't scheduled any early game play.

“We'll just focus on ourselves,” Sheahan said. “With what I'd call a young nucleus – I think we're close to 67 or 68 players that are in their first or second year of eligibility – so just focusing on the fundamentals. Just playing sound football is what we're going to focus on before we line up and play against Toronto. There's a risk when you don't have an exhibition game, but hopefully we're doing all the right things to prepare ourselves for August 26th.”

The Gryphons began training camp with six quarterbacks battling for the starting position and none of them have taken a snap in U Sports play.

“I'm OK with that,” Sheahan said. “Change isn't easy, but change was required. Some guys that were in the program last year have moved on and there's a good young group, a talented group, that have already generated some excitement amongst the veterans on the team. I don't need to name them one by one, but they're talented. Now the challenge is on us to get them the most game ready. Everybody will have those butterflies on August 25th and 26th, but I'm excited to see what they can do in U Sports competition.”

The six are 6-foot-4 Tristan Aboud of Montreal, 6-foot-1 Marshall McCray of Niagara Falls, 5-foot-11 Troy Hawkins of Dartmouth, N.S., 6-foot-3 Benjamin Mignault of
Kingston, 6-foot Rhys Staley of Windsor and 6-foot-2 Guelphite Amrit Atwal.

Of the six, Aboud played prep school football near Boston while Hawkins was on the Gryphon practice roster last season and Atwal guided the Centennial Spartans to the local District 10 high school championship.

A total of 108 players were listed on the team’s training camp roster including 67 who were with the team last season when they went 1-7 to finish in a three-way tie for ninth with York and the Waterloo Warriors and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

“It was a little bit of a lack of experience, a little bit of the injury bug, but this group is not 1-7,” Sheahan said. “This group is a new start, a new chapter. We're really excited to coach them because there's been a lot of attention to detail, even on Zoom having meetings over the summer and the spring. These guys are hungry and now we kind of have to hit the reset, develop the skill, get lined up properly and start from scratch.”

And in an attempt to keep the injury bug away, the Gryphons have changed the way they do things, including not scheduling the preseason game.

“We took a deep dive after last year and really looked at the sports science and athlete care model,” Sheahan said. “We've made adjustments on the nutrition, the volume in practice using a digital system monitoring how much we're taxing them and really making a little bit more database decisions rather than just trusting our gut and going with what I call the old school method. Hopefully, our method serves us well and we can do our best to avoid some of those things. In football, sometimes injuries do happen, but if we can be preventative in how we approach things, then maybe it'll help us.”

Game time for the season opener against Toronto at Alumni Stadium Aug. 26 is 1 p.m.