SACKVILLE, N.B. – Coming off an injury-filled winless season, the Mount Allison Mounties open the new season with plenty of optimism Friday when they face the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in AUS football action tonight.
Game time under the lights at MacAulay Field is 7 p.m.
“We’ve got a lot of young players this season. There’s a lot of talent and enthusiasm on the team this year and a buzz around campus,” fifth-year head coach Kelly Jeffrey said Thursday. “It will be important for us to focus on cutting down on turnovers, and of course we have to stay healthy. That’s something that really hurt us last year, the number of guys we lost to injury.”
Mount Allison defeated the Saint Mary’s Huskies 16-10 in their lone exhibition game last weekend with second-year quarterback Alex Field hitting Emmanuel Musangu from eight years out late in the third quarter.
Jeffrey said that game should provide a good springboard into the season opener against the X-Men.
“We feel we have the pieces in place to compete, but it will come down to staying healthy in several positions,” Jeffrey said, adding the conference is looking very balanced. “If we do that we will have just as much an opportunity to compete as anyone.
“Our goal, of course, is to make the playoffs. We feel that anything can happen at playoff time and we want to be the hot team once the playoffs start.”
While the club went 0-8 last season, Jeffrey said a lot of players gained some valuable experience, especially when injuries depleted the lineup and forced players to play in positions they weren’t familiar with.
“We had to put a lot of guys in because of injury and not because they earned a spot. Now we feel those guys picked up a lot of experience and we’re excited about what they will bring this season,” Jeffrey said.
Among the key returnees this year is veteran quarterback Jake Hotchkiss, who is entering his third year, and fifth-year offensive guard Mike Filer, who was drafted by the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.
On defence, Jacob LeBlanc, who was the AUS rookie of the year last season, and career sacks leader defensive end Ryan Downe are among the key defensive returnees.
“We like our defence and we’re excited about the starting 12 we have to put out there,” Jeffrey said. “We have quality at every position. With the guys we have coming back it’s among the most balanced groups we’ve had.”
Key recruits include running back Jordan Botel and quarterback Brandon Leyh on offence and defensive back Michael Bohan and linebacker Alan Snowdon of Sackville and defensive lineman Jordan Redding on defence.
“We’re excited about our backfield. We feel we’re very deep back there. We’re very confident about the quality of our running backs,” he said. “It also helps to have a veteran and a leader like Jake at the quarterback position. It helps calm people down and solidify the offence.”
Alex Curtis is back as kicker and Kyle McLean, who had eight punts inside the 20-yard line, is back as punter.
Key returning players:
QB Jake Hotchkiss – 3rd year. 2011 season: 8 GP, 209 attempts, 106 completions, 1485 yards passing, 7 TD’s, 15 INT’s.
RB Nathan Zavarella – 3rd year. 2011 season: 28 carries, 119 yards rushing, 4.2 average, 54 yards receiving. Zavarella returns as a versatile RB who can run, catch, and block.
REC Josh Blanchard – 3rd year. 2011 season: 13 receptions, 194 yards and 1 TD. Blanchard is the leading returning receiver in receptions and yards from the 2011 season and known for making clutch catches in traffic.
OG Mike Filer – 5th year. 2nd Team All-Canadian (2010), AUS All-Star (2009, 2010), 2011 East/West Bowl participant. 2012 Calgary Stampeders 4th round draft pick. Filer returns for his 5th year as the leader of a veteran offensive line and a four-year starter.
Key recruits (or newcomers: transfers):
RB Jordan Botel – VI Raiders (Nanaimo, BC). Botel finished 2011 as a CJFL All-Star and 1000-yard rusher helping lead the VI Raiders to a BCFC title.
QB Brandon Leyh – Langley Rams (New Westminster, BC). Leyh guided the Rams with a strong season finishing with a stellar 12 to 1 TD to Int ratio.
WR Adam Molnar, WR Ben Stehr, RB Nick Kukkonen, OL Aaron Harper, OL Chris Munn
Key returning players:
DL Jacob LeBlanc – 2nd year. 2011 season: AUS Rookie of the Year. 2012 Team Canada member. 2011 season: 30.5 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 TFL, 2 FR. LeBlanc was a member of the 2012 National Team that beat the USA in the World Bowl and was also the AUS Rookie of the Year for the 2011 season.
DB Donovan Saunders – 2nd year. 2011 season: 1 INT, 1 TD, 25 Tackles, 2 Pass Breakups, 1 TFL. Saunders started all 8 games as a true freshman taking an Interception back for a touchdown in his very first CIS game.
DE Ryan Downe – 5th year. 2011 season: 31 tackles, 12 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 2 FF, 2 FR. Downe is the Mounties’ career sacks leader and returns for a fifth year as the leader of the DL after a monster 2011 in which he finished 7th in sacks and 4th in tackles for loss nationally.
Key recruits (or newcomers / transfers):
DB Michael Bohan – Tantramar HS (Sackville, NB). Bohan was the New Brunswick Player of the Year in 2011 as the starting QB for the Tantramar Titans. Bohan also was the Punter and FS as the team played for the Provincial title.
LB Alan Snowdon – Tantramar HS (Sackville, NB). Snowdon was the Provincial Defensive Player of the Year for NB while helping guide the Titans to the Provincial title game.
LB Luke Ekoh, DL Taylor Pritchard
Key returning players:
K – Alec Curtis – 2011 season: 6 of 7 FG’s, 45.9 KO Avg.
P – Kyle McLean – 2011 season: 28.4 Avg., 8 Punts inside 20yd line