Our team can breed good players, but not act as a team. Why?
With longtime head coach Frank McCrystal riding off into the sunset (Volume 57, Issue 11, p. 11) after 32 years, the University of Regina Rams have arrived at a brand new point in their program’s history. So, now would be a good time to address the state of the Rams, and where the program will be headed in the next couple years.
The Rams have been pretty bad over the past couple years, and Mike Gibson is going to have his work cut out for him when things start to pick up in a few months when it comes to recruiting and training camp. But what has always struck me as odd when it comes to the Rams football team is how great they are at developing elite talent, and sending those players off to the pros. Let me throw a few names at you: Jon Ryan, Akiem Hicks, Jordan Sisco, and, in the near future, Addison Richards. These are players in the last couple years that have come out of the Rams football program, and become high draft picks not only in the CFL, but the first three have all made their ways to the NFL for a period of time. Akiem Hicks was drafted straight from the University of Regina; Jon Ryan has won a Super Bowl, and has been to another already.
So how come the Rams can’t develop these incredible talents and win football games? When I was talking to our Multimedia Editor, Brady Lang, about this subject, he brought up this phrase: “If you want to go to the pros, attend the U of R. If you want to win, attend the U of S.” Why can’t the Rams build a foundation for a winning team, and develop pro-ready prospects?
It all starts with recruiting. When it comes to recruiting outside of Saskatchewan, and even outside of Regina, you’re only going to get so many commitments. Where the Rams have to be dominant is within Regina. Too many players are playing their high school football here for some powerhouse teams like LeBoldus and Riffel, and then taking their talents up to the University of Saskatchewan. Take for example notable offensive lineman Ben Heenan (Sheldon Williams) and Patrick Neufeld (Luther), who ended up playing for the Riders. Both were among the best players in the city, but left for greener pastures with the Huskies because the Rams just weren’t good enough, and didn’t have the building blocks in place to become a good team. Mike Gibson’s number one goal should be creating an atmosphere where these good Regina born and bred players stay here.
Second, Gibson has to build a foundation for this team and stay committed to it. Gibson is a very smart man, but he has bounced around Canada quite a bit in his career as a coach. From Hamilton, to Saskatchewan, to Calgary, to Ottawa, to Winnipeg, Mike Gibson has made the rounds as a coach in the CFL. If Gibson wants to build the foundation that the Rams are desperate to have, and keep these players in Regina, then he’s going to have to remain committed, and deal with the good and the bad that come with a long-term job like this.
Gibson has to realize that the situation that he’s in right now isn’t the best, and that it’s going to take an Herculean effort to try and bring this team back up to a competitive level. However, despite all the negatives, he does have some nice things to work with. He has Noah Picton at quarterback, who took over for the incumbent Cayman Shutter after he went down with an injury, and Atlee Simon, who dominated the ground game in the second half of the Ram’s season. Most importantly, however, he seems to have the Rams roster believing in him, and prepared to make this journey with him. I believe that Gibson is going to make a change for this program, and even though it might take a couple years, they will be better for it in the long-haul.