There is no shortage of energy in the York Lions football locker room as the team prepares to hit the field for the first time in nearly two years.
Head coach Warren Craney and his coaching staff have been preparing the group for this moment since the day the world shut down. They’ve relied on team meetings, home gyms, the outdoor High Performance Centre – anything to keep players engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, the Lions intend to take the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) by surprise in 2021, and hope that two years’ worth of preparation will help them dominate the field against an array of able opponents.
Craney says, in training camp, it appears the extra preparation has paid off.
“This is the best football team I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” says Craney. “I think this team speaks a lot to our depth. Our coaches have done a great job in terms of recruiting high-impact players and have solved a lot of depth issues that we’ve had in the past. It’s the fastest football team I’ve ever seen on the field, both on offence and defence.”
One of the reasons behind the 12-year coach’s excitement is his new addition into the offensive co-ordinator role, Tommy Denison. Denison was hired in March 2020, and though it may have taken him a while to set foot on York’s campus, he has his fingerprints all over the 2021 Lions offence.
Denison’s tried-and-true system has made the Lions offence look dynamite. Leading the way will be fifth-year receiver Alex Daley, who was among the OUA’s leaders in his stat lines during the past two seasons. Retson Daley, Alex Daley’s brother, is also set to make a big impact on the Lions as an NCAA Division I student-athlete.
Running back Darnel Jarret burst onto the scene in 2019 with authority and will be looking to follow up that campaign with an even bigger one this season.
Jaxon Hume, a two-sport athlete also competing in track and field, brings size, speed and athleticism as a return specialist. He arrived on the scene in 2019 in a big way, scoring his first career touchdown on a 107-yard kick-off return against Ottawa in week five. More of that is expected this year, as Hume showcased his impressive quickness over the duration of Lions training camp.
The biggest change on the offence arguably comes at quarterback. Brett Hunchak, York’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns, completions and attempts, has transitioned to Craney’s coaching staff. Noah Craney will start this year, and his coach believes his athleticism will help him excel as the Lions’ starting quarterback.
They will all play behind an offensive line that is anchored by second-year tackles Evan Anseeuw and Logan Scott.
When asked about the defence, Coach Craney had trouble coming up with the proper words to describe the group. He settled on “insanity.”
On the defensive line, tackle Kwadwo Boahen has been unblockable all camp. He will be flanked by Nate Brennan and Kevin Musai, who round out the veteran defensive line, and new addition Jason Janvier-Messier, a top 2020 recruit who has left good impressions on his teammates and football operations staff after proving himself to be a hard worker on the field and in the gym during the 2020 shutdown.
Behind them, Matt Dean, Dawson Davis and Desi Dixon Jr. make up the “triple D linebackers,” as Coach Craney calls them, and are dominating figures showcasing a great deal of chemistry together in camp.
In the secondary, Daniel Amoako has stepped up into a leadership position along with the team’s 2019 leading tackler, Talik Ehouman.
The pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty – and the OUA standings are likely to be affected by that in 2021. With no football played in 2020, and a shortened six-game schedule upcoming, the OUA is sure to be hit with many surprise performers.
Coach Craney believes his team is well-suited to be one of the surprises.
“I think this team can accomplish great things,” he says. “Our team’s goal is to host a playoff game this year. And I believe it’s something we can do.”
This year, there are East and West Divisions in football and eight teams will make the playoffs. The post-season will begin with the top seed in each division hosting the fourth-place team while the second and third seeds do battle. The following week will be the semifinals, with the remaining two teams in each division facing off against each other. On Saturday, Nov. 20, the 113th Yates Cup championship will cap off the OUA campaign with each division’s winner competing for the trophy.