Can Hawks soar to even greater heights?

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Photo: Mathew McCarthy, Waterloo Region Record

Mark Bryson
Waterloo Region Record

There’s no looking back for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.

The reigning Yates Cup champions are downplaying last year’s success as they prepare for their season-opener against the University of Toronto Blues. The Hawks and Blues kick off their Ontario University Athletics football schedules Sunday afternoon (1 p.m.) at University Stadium.

Laurier head coach Michael Faulds, rather than focusing on his team’s 43-36 Yates Cup win over the Western Mustangs, has reminded his charges of their subsequent 36-6 drubbing in the Uteck Bowl at the hands of the powerful Laval Rouge et Or.

“The Yates Cup isn’t on display in our Football House, it’s kept in the case it arrived in,” said Faulds.

“So they’re treated exactly like any other team, we’ve got to work hard and take it a step further this year.”

Faulds, who was named Canada’s top head coach last year in his fourth season at Laurier, has good reason for optimism as the Hawks aim for the third Vanier Cup national championship in school history.

The veteran-laden squad returns 18 starting players — nine on offence, nine on defence — and should be even stronger than last year, when they went 7-1 during the regular season and ended their campaign as Canada’s fifth-ranked team.

Michael Neville (Brantford) enters the season as the Hawks’ undisputed No. 1 quarterback for the first time. And the third-year player will have no shortage of options at his disposal, both on the ground and in the air.

The Hawks led the country in rushing last season, averaging 281.4 yards per game. And there’s no reason to expect there will be a drop-off with most of the top rushers back for another campaign. Fellow third-year players Levondre Gordon (Mississauga) and Osayi Iginuan (Hamilton) will be the featured backs, and will be assisted in their quest for yards by an offensive line that includes standouts Drew Mairleitner (Denfield), Chris Reddy (Kitchener, Forest Heights) and Edward Cadougan (Scarborough). Fullbacks Stu Smith (Mississauga) and Mario Villamizar (St. Catharines) will also be key cogs in the running attack.

A solid group of receivers, led by Carson Ouellette (Windsor), Brentyn Hall (Toronto) and Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (Ottawa), will help make Knevel’s life easier when the Hawks opt for an aerial strike.

“What (Knevel) knows is that the weapons around him are so dangerous, he’s just the facilitator. … So we don’t put much pressure on the quarterback position,” said Faulds.

“He should be able to just facilitate, hand it off to the dangerous weapons, throw it to the guys when need be, and be very calm back there.”

On defence, free safety Scott Hutter (London) is the defensive leader for a unit that recorded 16 interceptions last season, a number that tied them for the second most in the country. Two-time all-Canadian Godfrey Onyeka (Brampton) returns at cornerback and will also play a huge role on defence.

The Hawks graduated defensive standouts Kwaku Boateng and Nakas Onyeka — both are now in the Canadian Football League — but Faulds said the team has more than enough talent to make up for the departures.

“We lost the best defensive lineman in the country in Kwaku Boateng, who’s now playing for Edmonton, and yet that unit actually got better because the seven other guys that dressed every week last year on the D-line are all back, all a year older and stronger,” said Faulds.

Toronto, which went 2-6 last year, should be no match for Laurier, but Faulds said his team will never look past an opponent. The squad’s buzzword, he said, is “now” and he’ll continue to stress that throughout the season.

“The most important meeting is now, the most important practice is now and the most important game we’re going to play is now,” he said.

“We’re just happy the (Toronto) game is at home and I think we’re going to play well.”

The Hawks are idle on the Labour Day weekend and return to action Sept. 9 at University Stadium against the Carleton Ravens.

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Photo: Mathew McCarthy, Waterloo Region Record

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