Enough hitting teammates, the Gryphons are ready to hit an opponent in a game that counts.
“We’re super ready,” linebacker Luke Korol said. “Camp’s been going great. The energy’s unreal out here and we’re excited to come out this new season and just show everyone the team we are this year. We’re going to go pretty far.”
“We’re more experienced this year -- older guys, more time playing,” quarterback James Roberts said. “We’re feeling great and we’re feeling confident.”
The Gryphons are to start their season at home Sunday as they look to recover from a 3-5 campaign last year.
“We weren’t happy with what happened last year and now we’ve been building up for this since last year,” Roberts said. “We’re ready to let it all out.”
The Gryphons are to tangle with the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the season opener at Alumni Stadium Sunday.
“We really just want to play, that’s the big thing,” Roberts said. “Everyone learned a lot from last year. We don’t want to come out too hot or think too much about it or put too much on ourselves. We just want to play some football and have some fun and just kind of grow as a team.”
The Gryphons did get some game play in at the Summer Showdown with the Atlantic conference pair of St. Francis Xavier X-Men and Mount Allison Mounties in Antigonish, N.S., last weekend when they won three of the four mini-games they played. Each mini-game was 15 minutes in duration, the same length as a quarter in a normal OUA league match. The Gryphons outscored their opponents 62-13.
“It was definitely good and we still got our first team in for about a half, which was nice,” Korol said. “It was just a great experience to go out there, see a different team and play live reps against someone.”
“It was a good performance and it was a good day,” Roberts said. “It’s a preseason game so you can look into that as much as you want to. It doesn’t really matter to us. It’s a game we played and we wanted to do our very best every single play. Short memory -- if you do some good, do some bad, that stuff’s going to happen. We just focus on the next play and try to grow as a team.”
Getting to hit an opponent for the first time this season was a big reason for participating in the showdown.
“It was nice to just get some hits on people live instead of just tagging up,” Korol said. “It’s kind of tough at practice to get a defence going because we can’t go to the ground (knock offensive teammates down), but it’s nice to go there and get some big hits, guys rallying with each other and just having a ton of fun.”
“That was very important, just getting back out there and getting hit and hitting someone else. Hitting someone else in a different colour is massive,” Roberts said. “Throughout camp there is contact and all that, but it’s different. It’s guys that are on your team. They’re your brothers and when you face an enemy, it just amps up that one extra level so it was a bit different and it was really needed.”
The trip east was also a good chance for the players to come together as a team. Of the 72 players on the roster who’ve been assigned numbers, meaning they could see game action this season, 21 are freshmen.
“It was a great bonding experience to go out there with all the guys,” Korol said. “We got really close and that’s what you need to be a championship team and we definitely have that this year. We’re very fortunate to have gone out there.”
That was the first game action for the Gryphons since their 17-11 OUA quarter-final playoff loss to the McMaster Marauders in Hamilton Oct. 29 last year.
The veterans have been through Gryphon training camps before and know what to expect. They also know what they have to do to improve their performances.
“I just got myself in a lot better shape than last year in terms of my endurance. I just feel a lot better. Some good things are going to happen this year,” Korol said. “For sure it was my conditioning last year. I just felt like I’d have to take off some reps because I was pretty tired, so my whole off season I was focusing on just getting myself able to play every rep that I can and making the most plays that I can. I put myself in that shape so I’m super excited for this year and for what our team’s going to do. Our team looks very good. We have all the tools this year to do amazing.”
“It changes every year. I think it’s more calculated,” Roberts said. “Educationally as I grow older I understand more things and see more things and fail more times. I’ve learned more because I’ve failed more. (My aim was to) be the most efficient as possible throughout that off-season and get myself prepared to play.”
For the Gryphons there are few players with personal goals. All know that good stats will come if the team performs well.
“For myself, I obviously want to do great,” Korol said. “You can only do as much as you can, but nothing feels good unless you win that last game or come away with a championship. I’m going to hopefully along the way do things that are good for myself but ultimately, nothing’s going to feel better than winning a championship as a team. Individual stats will just come from there.”
“This is such a team sport, my only goals would resort to a team atmosphere by saying we can’t have interceptions,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to win the turnover ratio which kind of falls on me more so than other guys because of getting interceptions and such -- and getting wins. That’s what we’re here for. I don’t look at this as an individual thing and I don’t think anyone on our offence does. That’s why we’re going to hope to grow as a team together.”
And the sound of the opening kickoff Sunday is going to be a welcomed one.
“It’s been so long,” Roberts said. “Ever since that McMaster game, we’ve all wanted to get back on this field so we’re just looking forward to it.”
Game time Sunday at Alumni Stadium is 1 p.m.