Gryphon football squad back on field

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

Now there’s the sure sign that summer’s almost over. The Guelph Gryphons are back on the football field.

The Gryphs took to the Alumni Stadium field Friday for their first on-field session of their 2017 OUA football season.

“The work that the kids put in during the summertime is really showing,” head coach Kevin MacNeill said following the workouts. “Definitely a lot of the freshmen have been down here and have been coached up by our veterans and it’s showing. A lot of the guys are ready to go.”

While the start of the camp means that the season opener can’t be too far away, the Gryphs aren’t looking that far ahead.

“We’re just looking at how to get better for tomorrow,” MacNeill said. “The season will come when it comes. We’ve got our intersquad game coming up on Monday and we’re excited to see the guys put into motion the things we’re teaching them. Right now it’s nice to see the freshmen come out in pads. We’ve been recruiting them for such a long time, it’s kind of nice to see them come out with the Gryphon on their chest.”

And there were a lot of them on the field Friday as most of the 54 they recruited did show up. That means that almost half of the players at camp are seeing a Gryphon playbook for the first time.

“That’s why the teaching was so important over the course of the summertime,” MacNeill said. “They’ve been coming up and integrating with our players and our players have done a great job of leading those guys and getting them up top speed. It’s been awesome to see those players finally in pads.”

And they’ll get a chance to strut their stuff in Monday’s intersquad game.

“We’ll be making our determination on who’s coming to the exhibition game after that,” MacNeill said. “That will be the kind of final opportunity for the players to show what they can do and we’ll be making our 70-man roster for the exhibition game from that game.”

The Gryphs are also getting to see the results of a few changes in the coaching staff. MacNeill lost the interim head coach title in the off-season. Among the other changes Jean-Francois Joncas is in as the offensive coordinator while Mark Forsyth is the defensive backs coach, Joe Sardo is the linebackers coach and former player Andrew Graham is the strength and conditioning coach.

“Having guys like Mark Forsyth and Joe Sardo here, those guys have been coaching forever,” MacNeill said. “It’s awesome to see those guys having fun and teaching the kids and having a guy like Brian Towriss here, the winningest head coach in the history of university football — it’s incredible getting a chance to pick his brain. It’s a lot of fun.”

Towriss, who had a U Sports-record 196 wins for the Saskatchewan Huskies when he resigned last December, is in camp as a guest coach.

Saturday, the Gryphs are to continue with their four-hour morning session.

“We’ll get to more of a regulated practice kind of schedule,” MacNeill said. “We did a lot of safe-contact stuff today so that’s going to allow for a little more special teams and a little more group time. It’s just the next stage of our insertion.”

The camp continues until Friday when they head to Antigonish, N.S., for preseason play in a special Summer Showdown day that includes the host St. Francis Xavier X-Men and the Mount Allison Mounties. The Gryphs will get two quarters of action against the X-Men and two quarters against the Mounties.