Gaels look to Sheahan, unproven for rebound season

James MacLean, CIAU receiving leader in 1999, returns for a fifth and final season as the anchor of another strong receiving corps.
James MacLean, CIAU receiving leader in 1999, returns for a fifth and final season as the anchor of another strong receiving corps.
Credit: 
Bohdan Yakimeczko

1999
2-6, T-5th place, O-QIFC.
Missed playoffs.

From the man under center right up to the bench boss calling the shots, the 2000 installment of the Golden Gaels football team will have a decidedly different look.

Gone is the Howes tandem — Bob as head coach and Beau at quarterback — as ex-Stingers coach Pat Sheahan takes over after his 12 seasons at Concordia. Sheahan comes to a program with a solid albeit small core of experienced veterans and a youthful majority who have yet to play in the postseason.

“Overall we’ve added some team speed, and we do get start the season with a little bit of depth. Our veteran players are some of our best players.”

FOOTBALL

After losing to Ottawa in the O-QIFC final in 1997, Queen’s football fell on the hardest of times, amassing just five wins over the past two seasons. The lowest came on a crossover between 1998 and 1999. After a promising 3-1 start, the Gaels lost their next four to miss the playoffs, and promptly opened last fall with five straight losses, thus rendering the question of Gaels football in November to a foregone conclusion.

But there are new workhorse options in town, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and with their arrival a whole slew of question marks that a two-week, two-practice a day training camp failed to answer.

Of the upstart incumbents hoping to replace Howes at quarterback, senior Darren Cassidy and sophomore Craig Spear are the most likely candidates.

“They are a contrast in styles,” said Sheahan. “Darren’s more of a drop-back quarterback, who has to find his spot and set up to throw the ball. Craig’s more of an athletic type, built like a running back or a wide receiver, who is more mobile and can make things happen.”

Both will most likely see action Saturday in the season opener.

“We’re going to need both of these guys to win,” said Sheahan, suggesting that a quarterback committee system appears to be the preliminary plan.

At tailback, North Vancouver’s Wyatt Hartley will start, who showed flashes of brilliance in spot duty backing up Paul Correale last year. He arrived at camp in tremendous shape, and also logged the quickest 40-yard time on the team, a 4.4 seconds.

North Bay’s Jeff Colvin returns for a fifth season to start again at fullback.

The nation’s top receiver last year, James MacLean, returns from Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp to anchor what is - if not the fastest - unquestionably the most educated receiving corps in the country. Medical student Alan Cheng and Nathan Gorman, an import transfer from St. Francis Xavier studying law, will be joined by fifth year student Roby Ryan to form a speedy quartet of pass catchers that will be dangerous providing either Spear or Cassidy can get them the ball.

Defensively, there is an air of familiarity, and fewer boots to fill. All Canadian cornerback Jason Wimmer and middle linebackers Callum O’Connor and Chris Robyn return to form a strong core nucleus. Markham products Michael Varona and Andrew Moad will shore up the front trench, and the secondary has plenty of speed alongside the addition of top recruit Marc Mitchell, a first year safety out of St. Michaels College in Toronto.

Pat Tracey comes in to take over the all-important special teams, the swivel on which the tides of games so often turn. Roger Levac, out of LaSalle secondary in Kingston, will do the place-kicking, while Nova Scotia import Will Vreugdenhil will cover punting duties.

“Vreugdenhil’s a big athletic guy back there, with a very strong leg and he’s also an inside receiver. Plus, he can throw from there, so we can work with that,” said Sheahan, alluding perhaps to some trickery up his bomber jacket’s sleeve.

“With Pat focusing only on that...I think our overall management of special teams has improved,” said Sheahan.

The new coach had a theory to spin as he forecast making the playoffs as a reasonable goal for the upstart Gaels.

“There are cyclical things that happen in football. Seven or eight years ago, all you heard about was Bishop’s and Queen’s, and ironically enough both those teams have missed the playoffs the last two seasons. Teams refuel and regenerate, and that takes time. Laval, Concordia, and Ottawa have been in the Vanier Cup the past three seasons, so it’s our turn to come back.”

Without a soft spot in the schedule, it will be tough. Saturday’s opener against defending O-QIFC Champions Ottawa should be a good chance to gauge the team’s potential. Last year’s Hec Creighton - the CIAU’s Heisman - winner Phil Cote returns, but without his top targets Rob Harrod and Ibrahim Tounkara.

“Phil’s a marvelous competitor,” said Sheahan. “What I admire about him is that he does everything in his power to win the game for his team. They will be a fast, athletic bunch, but with Harrod and Tounkara gone, they lose the big-play conversion ability, where one of them would catch a five-yard crossing route and turn it into a touchdown.”

Game time is 1:30 p.m.

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