The 2014 Acadia football Axemen will lack depth this season, but head coach Jeff Cummins is hopeful his team will make up in quality what it might lack in quantity.
“There have been an unfortunate rash of injuries over the summer,” Cummins said Aug. 15. “It’s nothing we’ve done, but several players we thought we would have now aren’t coming or are injured.”
This has led to some unanswered questions surrounding this year’s roster. “We’re hoping training camp (which started Aug. 22) will help us figure some things out,” Cummins said.
He predicted that barring further injuries or departures, “our strengths are likely to be our defense and our kicking.” The offense, particularly with new quarterbacks, “is likely to take a while to find its groove.”
The kicking is in great shape, at least for this season. All-conference kicker Ryan Begin, the MVP of this year’s East-West Bowl, is back to handle both the punting and placekicking chores.
On the defensive line, Acadia returns all-Canadian Jesse St. James; Martin Pesek, a Hamilton Tiger-Cats draft pick; and last year’s AUFC Rookie of the Year, Kings County native Adam Melanson. St. James and Pesek combined for 23 quarterback sacks last season.
Zach Garcia, Ben Wallace, Erik Richard, Nathan Conway and Travis Collona are among those in the running for a fourth lineman job.
Newcomers on the D-line include Matt Cook, Aaron Bourdages and Sehkahnee Reynolds, who can also play linebacker.
All-conference player Drew Morris is back at linebacker. Cummins was expecting to have Alex Graham back, but he recently left school.
The other starters will come from a group including Matt Nettle, Connor McCrudden, Russ Rainey and Brian Doyle, a highly regarded linebacker who sat out last year after transferring from a D-3 school in the U.S.
Newcomers at linebacker include Nova Scotian Jesse Boudreau (C.P. Allen) and Evan Shergold (Toronto). Cummins said, “we think both these guys are going to be very good.”
In the defensive backfield, all-Canadian Brett Backman returns, along with Sulieman Semalulu and Sean Stoqua, who played in the 2014 East-West Bowl game after returning from a broken leg suffered last season.
Other DBs include Harland Hastings, Will Woczik (also hurt last season), Harrison Da Costa, Brandon Jennings and Shida Wang. Recruits include Garvin Cuis, Brandon Johnston and Chad Erisman.
Sheldon McDonald, who can also play linebacker, will be the long snapper on special teams. Kick returning will be an open competition after the Axemen lost all three of their returners from last season.
“We’ll have an open audition at camp,” Cummins said. “I’m not too worried about it. We have lots of good athletes.”
On offense, Acadia should be strong at running back, where Thomas Troop, Zack Clarke and Derek Wodz are all returning. “We’re thin at the position,” Cummins admitted, “but we should be okay.”
At quarterback, Acadia will have a new starter, with last year’s backup Darcy Lavoie and newcomers Jon Shaw and Javon Smith in the running. All three have good size, great arms and good potential.
Of the three, Smith, a Florida native who attended junior college in California and made all-conference there, is a dynamic player who also runs well. Negatively, “he hasn’t played Canadian football before.”
Shaw, who stands 6’4”, is from Ottawa and formerly played at Bishop’s.
Sophomore Cody Cluett was recently sidelined with a torn ACL.
“Right now, Lavoie is the starter,” Cummins said, “but everything depends on camp. We’ll have to see what happens.”
At receiver, returning players include Brian Jones, Jordan Koch, Sebastian Robinson, Eli Prochnau, Jasper Goodwin and Bobby Troop, Thomas Troop’s younger brother. All “played last year and contributed, though not in starting roles,” other than Jones.
Taylor Renaud, Andrew Healy, Scott Kelly and Tristan Hercules will all be missed. Taking up the slack will be newcomers Brandon Smith (Ottawa), Brad Vince (Cambridge, ON), Ben Meek (Peterborough, ON) and Connor Rasch (Calgary).
On the offensive line (which Cummins will coach again this season), returning players include all-conference selection Chris Fanning, Ethan Charters, Connor Quinn-Austin and Sean Biard.
As well, Kirby Fletcher, an all-conference defensive tackle last year, shifts to the offensive line after being drafted by the Toronto Argonauts.
“He played the O-line for Toronto in two pre-season games, and is now back here for a fifth year,” Cummins said of Fletcher.
Matt Marner and Alex Dodier will both vie for playing time as well, along with Jesiah Hathaway, “who was here last year but didn’t play.”
Cummins is looking for good things from the O-line, which can hopefully help lessen the learning curve for the new quarterbacks.
Asked for the team’s goals for this season, Cummins said, “our goals never change. We expect to play for the CIS championship.” Certainly he would settle first of all for a third AUFC title in four years.