Campbell, Hawks ready to take on the OUA’s powerhouses

Christine Rivet
Waterloo Region Record

Photo: Mathew McCarthy, Waterloo Region Record
Photo: Mathew McCarthy, Waterloo Region Record

WATERLOO — Michael Faulds has a weapon of mass destruction in his arsenal. And he’s not afraid to use it.

Wilfrid Laurier’s head football coach will deploy the nation’s leading rusher from a year ago, Dillon Campbell, in any and all situations this season.

And as Campbell, a 23-year-old thermonuclear bomb from Whitby, goes, so too, will his Golden Hawks.

More than 100 players, 34 of them freshmen, were at Laurier’s training camp which opened this weekend as the team prepares for Friday’s pre-season tune-up at the University of Saskatchewan.

After being selected by the Toronto Argos in this past spring’s CFL draft, Campbell was released from the pro team’s training camp, with some encouraging parting words.

The Argos fully expect to see Campbell in a CFL uniform next season.

But for now, the reigning Ontario conference MVP is back at Laurier and poised to make his fifth and final university season a farewell tour to remember.

“It’s great to have him back. Obviously, everyone knows what Dillon can do on the field,” said Faulds, in his third season at the Hawks’ helm.

“D.C. is one of the guys that makes everyone else better because he always goes hard. He doesn’t take a play off — ever,” added Laurier’s running backs coach Ryan Lynch.

“And when the young guys see him doing that, it really steps up our own (interteam) competition.”

Campbell has the distinct advantage of lining up behind what the University of Guelph’s defensive co-ordinator Kevin MacNeill called the Ontario University Athletics’ “hardest working line”.

That offensive line, featuring Michael Malanda, Brett Golding, Kitchener’s Chris Reddy and centre Jamie Lalonde, returns intact from last season save for Tommy Griffiths, now with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Here’s the kicker.

The four returning starters on Laurier’s O-line have at least three years of university eligibility remaining.

“So it’s a young group — a group that got heavier and stronger in the off-season,” said Faulds.

And a group that will only get better.

Campbell was clearly disappointed not to crack the Argos’ lineup, especially given the circumstances. But he said he’s eager to prove he belongs in the professional ranks.

“I didn’t have my best camp with Toronto. I think the jitters got to me so I didn’t have my best performance. But it was a learning experience,” said Campbell, a study in consistency, who rushed for more than 100 yards in all of Laurier’s nine games last season, including a 25-10 quarter-final loss to Western.

The biggest question mark for the Hawks this season is their kicking game.

Veteran punter/kicker Ronnie Pfeffer, of Kitchener, set the Hawks’ team record in career field goals (53) and led Canadian university football in punting (42.2 yard per average) last season.

He signed with the Argos this summer and won’t be back.

The Hawks will have to find a serviceable replacement from among Nathan Mesher (SJAM), Sandro Arghittu (St. Catharines) or Quinn Johnson (Toronto).

“Ronnie left big shoes to fill,” said Faulds.

After finishing with a 4-4 record, tied for sixth in the 11-team loop last year, Faulds said his Hawks are ready to take the next step, from middle tier to the league’s upper echelon with McMaster, Guelph and Western.

“We respect all our opponents but I don’t think there is any team that scares us.”

Hawks starting quarterback James Fracas (SJAM) returns for his third season at the controls. But the team will contend with significant losses on defence.

Defensive back Chris Ackie (Preston) and lineman Ese Mrabure-Ajufo, of Mississauga, were first-round CFL draft choices and are lost to Montreal and the B.C. Lions, respectively.

The Hawks open their regular season on Aug. 30 when they travel to Toronto to face the York Lions.

OUA teams will have to comply with improved player health and safety regulations this season, including limits on contact practices through training camp and the season and ramped up protocols to deal with concussions and to prevent heat-related illness.

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