In hopes of changing their past, recruiting has been the coaching staff’s top priority
Before the successes of last season, for the last couple years the Stingers football program underwent an unceremonious fall from grace out of the ranks of the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) premiere programs. The institution that former head coach Gerry McGrath had built in his later years provided anaemic results as the program slipped further and further into depths of cyclical mediocrity. Compounding poor on-field results, a graduating talent pool and a flagrant lack of competitive funding proved to be insurmountable, contributing to the eventual retirement of McGrath in the fall of 2013, after 22 years of devoted service.
Effective recruiting is the foundation of any university athletic program, especially in the case of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) football. Already in the midst of a full on rebuild, Stingers head coach Mickey Donovan and his staff are going all-out this offseason to replenish their depleted talent pool and arm themselves for next season.
“Our focus come this recruiting period is to bring the best kids in, no matter the position,” Donovan said. “Because right now we’re still trying to rebuild [the program] by bringing better talent and adding more depth [to our roster].”
Last year, in Donovan’s inaugural season, the Stingers shocked the CIS landscape and caught some national attention as they began their season 4-0 after a winless 2013 season. However, positional depth concerns and injury issues on the offensive line among other key positions such as quarterback, running-back and the defensive line, made it difficult for the Stingers to maintain any sort of sustained success when it came time to play against powerhouse conference rivals “Recruiting is the number one thing for winning in Canada, you have got to be able to find talent, not just football players but student athletes,” Donovan said. “I believe that Concordia is one of the best universities in the world, not just for football but for studying too, and we try to show recruits that when they visit.”
Despite Donovan’s optimism, the Stingers find themselves in the midst of a precarious situation. Concordia is primarily an English university in a French province. Undeterred by the slight decline, 79 per cent of the nearly 8 million Quebecers still claim French as their mother tongue, according to Stats Canada. This makes it even more difficult to attract some of the nation’s top homegrown recruits.
“There are a lot of great French athletes out there and we would love to have them all,” said Donovan. “We only have [a] chance if there’s an interest in studying in English, if there’s no interest we don’t have a chance, but even if there’s a slight interest, we have chance.”
This offseason, despite the inherent language handicap, the Stingers have gone full-fledged with the their upcoming recruiting class. According to Canada Football Chat (CFC), the Stingers have committed a CIS-best 53 recruits for the upcoming 2015 season, with an overwhelming majority coming from Quebec. Using the university’s perceived language hurdle as a unique selling feature, Donovan and the rest of the coaching staff have amassed an amazing amount of recruits who will look to compete for roster spots and playing time come training camp in August.
“This year we’re probably going to have 60 incoming freshmen, and we’re probably going to have 130 at camp,” Donovan said. “What we’re trying to do is build that sense of competition, on the field, in the classroom, in the weight room.”
Donovan also brought American players on board; his trips across the U.S. to recruit have expanded the Stingers roster to include players from as far as Texas and Florida.
Marred by injuries for much of this past season, Donovan and his staff look to prepare themselves accordingly for the unrelenting grind of the RSEQ regular season.
In response to the concerns about the quarterback position—with the departure of last season’s starting quarterback Frank Dessureault—Donovan and his staff are confident that this year’s incoming recruits, along with the in-house talent, will prove to be an upgrade from last season’s talent pool.
“We’ve got some great [quarterbacks] coming in. We’ve got Quaid Johnson coming in from John Abbott, Collin Sequera coming back with a year under his belt and we’ve got highly touted American transfer QB Trenton Miller who’s enrolled for his MBA,” said Donovan. “If Frank [Dessureault] had been around this year, I don’t think he’d be dressing.”
Only time will tell if this new go-for-broke attitude translates into winning results. With five months until training camp opens, Donovan and his staff are making sure that they give their program the best chance to succeed.