Championship or bust is the Dalhousie football team’s mindset heading into this season.
The team is looking for their second championship in two years after going undefeated last year and winning their first Atlantic Football League (AFL) title.
“Anything less than a championship is not acceptable,” said Head Coach Mark Haggett over the phone. “There’s no reason why (the team can’t go 8-0 again).”
Haggett believes the Tigers have the players and coaching staff to improve upon last year’s success. That is a high bar considering how dominate the Tigers were last year.
Under a rookie head coach, the 2016 Tigers went undefeated. They won a conference title and obliterated the competition on both sides of the ball, scoring over 300 points and allowing less than 30.
There are a few reason’s why the Tigers can improve. Haggett is heading into his second year as head coach and because he has a year’s experience, Haggett feels he is better prepared.
Despite the stats, last year’s team lacked depth. For example, Nick Hunsley was the only quarterback on the roster. If needed, running back Zack Leger would’ve taken the reigns in a wildcat format.
This season, depth is no longer a problem, as Haggett and his staff have brought in “37 studs from good high school programs.”
Instead of a single quarterback, there are now at least three rookie quarterbacks. The number of offensive linemen jumped from six to 10 and there are more increases across the board.
Haggett says this depth could be crucial for the team, because now there’s more players, with less of a talent gap between starters and the bench. It should create a healthy competition within the team.
Arguably the biggest factor in the team having success this season is the amount of people returning to the program.
Key on-the-field returns include both starting offensive and defensive lines and star running back Zack Leger.
A few graduated players from last year’s team have transitioned to coaches. Notably, Rob Wilson is the defensive backs coach, Guillaume Bernier is the wide receivers coach, and Nick Hunsley is now the quarterbacks coach.
Hunsley could have the toughest task, because he has to develop three, possibly four, first-year quarterbacks to lead Dal.
Hunsley explains regardles of what high school a quarterback comes from, they have to adjust to the higher level of play at the university level. Quarterbacks have to deal with an increase in the size and athleticism of athletes, and an increase in the speed of the game. Another big change is that defenses are more disciplined and harder to read.
The majority of Hunsley’s job will be passing his experience and knowledge on to the young slingers, to develop them mentally.
Hunsley says the top two quarterbacks right now are Chris Duplisea and Ian Oyler.
“It’s tough to say (who’s ahead) without seeing them with a playbook in front of them, but we’re pleased with what we’ve seen so far,” Hunsley said. “ They’re both capable.”
He added that the final decision will weigh heavily on who knows the playbook best.
Dal starts their chase for a repeat at home against the UNB Saint John Seawolves on Sept. 16.