It’s often said that a strong offensive line is the best predictor of college football success, and the York University Lions football coaching staff followed that theory to the letter while recruiting its first class.
“Every offence is as good as its ‘o-line’ and it was and always will be the most fundamental point of our recruiting policy,” said York Lions head coach Warren Craney. “We focused on bringing to York the biggest and best football players to help fulfil our goals, and we are thrilled with the unit we’ve put together.”
This off-season saw the addition of more than 50 new recruits to the roster, no unit on the team went through a bigger overhaul than the offensive line. Six men from across the province – Andrew Howlett, John Maddalena, Alex Midea, Jordyn Moore, Brandon Santos and Max Sullivan – were brought in to bolster a line that will be led by the returning Ed Michel, who was tremendous in his debut with the Lions at centre last season.
|Above: From left, Lions offensive line players Andrew Howlett, Max Sullivan, Jordyn Moore, Ed Michel, Alex Midea, John Maddalena and Brandon Santos|
This unit will be one of the team’s biggest strengths thanks to this group and while the players are young this year, their potential is unlimited.
“We expect this unit to grow into one of the best lines in the league over the next four years, and they’ll get the opportunity to prove themselves immediately with significant playing time from day one. These men are all high-quality athletes and they are going to be thrust into the spotlight right away,” said Craney. “With our focus on the passing game, having an improved line will completely change the dynamic of the offence this season.”
Benefitting the most from the improved line will be the quarterbacks, most notably returning starter Nick Coutu. Now in his fourth year with the Lions and his second under the guidance of offensive coordinator Michael Faulds, who is the CIS’s all-time passing leader, Coutu is poised to take the next step and lead his team onto the scoreboard.
He’ll have plenty of targets downfield as the receiving unit is the most talented on the squad entering the start of the season. The Lions return their entire receiving corps from last year, including team MVP and leading receiver Jonelle Tolbert as well as Will Austin, Nathaniel Griffith, Jesse Murton and Marc Robinson-Weekes. They will be complemented by a strong group of young receivers in Devante Hobbs, Skyler Hurst, Curtis Pryce and Brandon Williams, giving the Lions plenty of options on offence.
In the backfield there will be a battle all season as rookies Riser Markell and George Daniel compete for the starting job.
The defence has also seen an influx of young talent at all positions in the mould of Craney’s high risk, high reward philosophy. Under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Harry Laflamme, who has worked with Craney for several years and coaches his units in the same style, this year’s defence promises to be exciting.
Right: Head coach Warren Craney
“We will be aggressive and attack on defence on every play,” said Craney. “Our high risk, high reward motto is something that I’ve instilled in all teams I’ve coached previously and with great success, and I expect similar results here with the players we have.”
Fifth-year veteran Steve Reading, the team’s leader in tackles in each of the last two seasons, has moved to defensive end for his final year with the Lions and will team up with fellow veteran Patrick Russell to form an experienced duo at that position. They will receive help from rookie Michael Livingston, one of the first blue-chip recruits to commit to York in the off-season. Livingston is the all-time sack leader for the Metro Toronto Wildcats of the Ontario Varsity Football League (OVFL) thanks to a tremendous wingspan that enables him to go after opposing quarterbacks.
Like its offensive line, the team’s linebacker corps will be largely made up of highly touted rookies in Hussein Hazime, Roberto Lopez, Nana Nkansah and Denzel Philip. Nkansah and Philip were both GTA high school all-stars last season and Lopez’s athletic ability will bring added value to the team. Hazime was a heavily recruited player out of Senator O’Connor Secondary School in Toronto who nearly followed his brother to the NCAA before choosing to play for the Lions.
The secondary is where the biggest recruiting splash happened with the commitment of standout defensive back Marcus Grandison. One of the highest-rated players coming out of Chaminade College School this year, he was a team MVP and two-time GTA all-star in high school and a two-time defensive backs award winner at the national underclassmen combine. He also participated in last year’s 2011 Team USA vs. The World football game as a member of the World team.
With the pieces in place, the challenge for the coaching staff now is to bring the team together and prepare the young players for the speed of OUA football. It is something Craney and his assistants have been waiting for all summer.
“We have more ‘hot shot’ recruits on defence, but more returning veterans on offence and I think the balance will work well this season,” concluded Craney. “We are a very young team, but loaded with talent and we know we will be more competitive. Our expectations for this team are high and the players will have to grow up on the field in a hurry, but the coaching staff feels they are ready and we cannot wait to see them in action.”