Road to the Vanier Cup

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The Rams season is officially underway

Autumn McDowell
Sports Editor

After being ranked first in the Canada West pre-season coaches’ poll, the University of Regina Rams look at this season as an opportunity to achieve greatness.

The Rams will have to put in a lot of work if they are going to make it to the Vanier Cup this year, a feat they haven’t achieved since 2000. Although the task may seem daunting, with nearly 20 returning players and numerous first-year players with the ability to make an immediate impression, the fate of the Rams season rests in their hands.

With the return of fifth-year quarterback Marc Mueller, outstanding running back Adrian Charles, and defensive back Jamir “Mr. Interception” Walker, not to mention countless others, veteran presence will be something that everyone notices about this years squad.   

“I think it’s important [to have veteran presence] for a couple of reasons,” Rams head coach Frank McCrystal offered. “Pysically, it’s important because you have an opportunity to be on the field, so it gives you game experience. Mentally, it’s important because you are maturing and there is a maturation process that the players go through, relative to not only the game itself, but also university life and just living.”

Although many returning players will already have a grasp on what is expected from them in both school and football, the first-year players will have to go through an adjustment phase. However, even though the new players are entering their first year as a Ram, that does not necessarily make them rookies as McCrytal sees it.

“We have some new guys, but the rookie thing is a little different to understand because some of the new guys we have are coming in from junior football. We have five guys coming in from junior – three from the [Saskatoon] Hilltops and two from the [Regina] Thunder,” McCrystal said, “Those guys are new guys, but they bring a physical presence and maturity too.”

Although the group of five players that McCrystal has outlined, including 2010 Prairie Football Conference all-star running back Mark Coons, may not be new to the trials and triumphs of university life, the Rams do have a few players that are joining the team right out of high school. 

“We have some young guys that have come from across the country, whether it’s from rural Saskatchewan, small town Saskatchewan or a big city in Ontario, and those guys are adapting to the whole new life for them and the university scene,” said McCrystal, who is entering his 13th season with the team. “But they are really athletic. We have three in particular who are really athletic guys, so they are going to be able to contribute just through their raw talent.”

Whether the player is entering their first year or their fifth, McCrystal believes “staying organized and being able to organize yourself to the point where you are eliminating distractions” is the key to success.

“Those distractions being, ‘I’ve got to get a paper in, I have a midterm coming up, etc,’” McCrystal added. “University, especially in your early years, can be challenging.”

After finishing third in Canada West in 2010 while sporting a 5-3 record on route to a 40-33 semi-final loss at the hands of the Calgary Dinos, the Rams still have room for improvement.

“I think it is important to improve,” McCrystal said. “The thing that happens is, we seem to be getting a lot of attention – being Number 1 in the conference and Number 6 in Canada – but the thing that we have to be aware of is it is all a process and it doesn’t matter how good you were at the end of the year. You have to start at the beginning again. You get to that point faster, but you still have to go through all of those steps.”

Going into the Rams regular-season opener against the UBC Thunderbirds on Sept. 2 at Mosaic Stadium, McCrystal wanted to make sure his team did not let the pre-season ranking go to their heads.

“I think it is like anything in life. If you take yourself too seriously, you are going to add pressure,” he said. “Our thing is, we are trying not to take ourselves too seriously, in that we know who we are, we need to identify what we are good at and what we need to improve on and work towards that improvement.”

Although the Rams season may be gruelling at some points, McCrystal believes that fans will be guaranteed one thing this year: excitement. 

“I think we are an exciting football team. I think something that [fans] are going to see is that we are pretty aggressive, we throw the ball down the field and we try to put the ball in the air a lot, and I think that is fun to watch,” McCrystal said. “I think it is defensively a lot of fun to watch, because we have some big guys up front, we have big players who can make big plays and we have a fast, physical and experienced team. I think [fans] will see exciting football from us, but also from our opponents, because it is a very competitive league and there is a great deal of parody.”

There is no telling what this season may hold for the Rams, but McCrystal believes that it starts with the little things.

“We have to make sure we are doing the things which get us to a place where we have an opportunity to do well and continue through the playoffs if we work hard to get there,” he said.

As for the Vanier Cup, as long as the effort and determination is there, this could be a very special season for the Rams and their fans.

Notes from the Rams 21-10 loss to the Thunderbirds in the season-opener

– Fifth-year quarterback and Rams anchor Marc Mueller went down early in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. Mueller would return to the sidelines in the second half with his arm in a sling, but would not play another minute of football.

– Regina receiver Jared Janotta finished off a 10-play, 70-yard drive with his first touchdown reception of the year. Janotta finished the game with eight catches for a total of 99 yards.

– Rams running back Adrian Charles began running toward the record books once again, as he finished with 192 rushing yards on 26 rushes in his first outing with the Rams in 2011. The 26 rushes tied him for fifth-most on the Rams all-time list for rushing attempts in a game.

-The Rams are scheduled to travel to Saskatoon (1-0) on Friday to face their highway rivals in a showdown at Griffiths Stadium.

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