The Gryphons got a head start on the season when most of the players expected at training camp attended a couple of captains’ practices at Alumni Stadium.
The workouts, the last one being held the night before players were to report to camp, attend meetings and get their photos taken for the team’s program, were run by the captains without a coach in sight. They were fairly light-hearted affairs designed mainly to get the first-year players comfortable.
“They’re definitely for the younger guys,” quarterback Theo Landers, an offensive captain, said. “They’re something they can see what we’re going to be installing on Day 1, Day 2. It kind of gives them a feel of the speed of things and (allows them to) get to know everyone, too. We have pretty much the whole team out here for the captains’ practices so it’s nice for everyone to meet and greet each other and everyone just get optimistic and get ready to go for our training camp.”
“They’re pretty important for us,” linebacker Luke Korol, a defensive captain, said. “It’s a pretty good thing that we have in place so that when rookies come in, they’re not just opening the playbook the first day. It’s kind of a week-by-week process slowly bringing stuff at them so that it’s not an overload the very first day they get here. It’s also good too because it’s an open platform without coaches where they can ask questions and everything. It’s more a comfortable atmosphere because it’s pretty scary coming in as a first-year. You’ve got this whole new playbook, a massive team, coaches – you don’t want to be the one asking questions. These are good for guys just to get kick-started on the playbook before it starts up.”
While captains’ practices have been held throughout the off-season, the two leading up to Friday’s start of training camp were the ones that had the highest attendance, estimated at around 95 per cent.
“We’ve had a great turnout – a ton of guys,” Landers said. “We’ve been running first, second, third teams so it’s been nice to have plenty of guys. There’s been a ton of reps and tons of learning. It’s been awesome.”
“The atmosphere is unreal and we’re having fun out there,” Korol said. “It’s just a good thing to get started before camp.”
At this time of the season everyone is optimistic and the Gryphons look to make amends for their loss to the Western Mustangs in last year’s OUA championship Yates Cup game.
“I think we’re going to have a pretty good season,” Landers said. “I think we have a really good group of guys and we have a pretty veteran group this year. I feel we have a lot of guys who have played the past two years or so so they have a lot of confidence. They’ve been playing in this league and they know the speed and everything so I’m really optimistic about this year.”
“It’s exciting for a lot of us vets and everything because we’ve got a bitter taste in our mouths from last year,” Korol said. “We just want to get it kick-started. Obviously some rookies coming in are a little nervous. There’s mixed emotions going around, but overall I think everyone is super pumped to get the season going. The atmosphere that we have here, everyone is in such a great mood, it’s unreal.”
This season Landers enters the camp as the Gryphons’ starting quarterback. Now in his fourth season, Landers became the starter midway through last season when James Roberts suffered a season-ending injury.
“This year it’s a little different,” Landers said. “There’s a little bit more responsibility I would say, but I’m ready to walk up to the plate and I’m super happy and super optimistic. I’m ready to go. I feel like I’ve prepared myself well for the position.”
For Korol, this season will be his fifth and final one.
“I keep on thinking about it going in that it is my last year,” he said. “Obviously I’m excited for the year, but I wish there were more. It’s crazy how fast time flies. Everyone always tells you that time flies when you come in and you’re like ‘Oh yeah, I’m sure.’ It’s five years and man, it has flown by. But it’s very exciting.”
And both are ready to hit the turf to start training camp early Friday morning.
“It’s super exciting,” Landers said. “(Thursday) is getting all the jitters out in the meetings and getting mentally focused. I can’t wait to get out there Friday. (Thursday), it’s a mental day – kind of get situated, get the playbooks and get all that down. Friday, we hit the turf and get rolling. I’m really excited.”
“There’s just a different vibe on the team this year. Camp’s going to go great,” Korol said. “It’s a really exciting time and I can’t wait to kick-start the season with the guys. I couldn’t be any more pumped.”
The Gryphons have seven days of training camp before heading to Quebec City for a preseason match with the perennially strong Laval Rouge et Or Aug. 18.
When they return it’ll be regular practice sessions in preparation for their season opener against the McMaster Marauders at Ron Joyce Stadium in Hamilton Aug. 26. Game time is 3 p.m.
The home opener is set for Labour Day Monday, Sept. 3, against the York Lions. Game time at Alumni Stadium is 1 p.m.