By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It doesn’t happen very often around the Queen’s Golden Gaels. In fact, this is just the second time in the last 10 years that the football team has gone into a training camp without an incumbent quarterback.
A five-year run by Danny Brannagan ended in 2009 with a national championship. Billy McPhee graduated last spring after he spent the next five years directing the Gaels’ offence.
If there’s an heir apparent, it would be Nate Hobbs, who was McPhee’s backup last year as a freshman from Mississauga’s St. Joan of Arc high school. Hobbs got into four games, completed a third of his 18 passes, throwing one for a touchdown with no interceptions.
Matt Duffy, the former Ottawa Myers Riders varsity quarterback who was a redshirt freshman at Carleton last year, is thought to have a chance to unseat Hobbs with a strong training camp. Freshman Matt Gouveia, a provincial team quarterback from St. Roch in Brampton, is also in the picture.
Strikingly, that’s it.
Gaels coach Pat Sheahan was asked if it was an exciting time for a coach, to be holding auditions for the most important position on the field, or a daunting prospect. Given there were only three red shirts on the practice field Monday, Sheahan spoke pragmatically.
“It’s daunting if you have an injury or two, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “We have to make sure that we don’t have too many injuries at that position.
“I don’t think that’s a secret. You’ve just got to make sure they’re well managed, that they don’t get a sore arm.
“The elements are providing an extra variable in terms of managing things,” he said, after conducting a practice on a humid, 33-degree afternoon on shadeless Miklas-McCarney Field. “It’s not unique to us, but it’s there.”
Also in camp is Austin Geddes, who came to Queen’s a year ago as a quarterback but by the end of 2014 had become the team’s long snapper and is this year trying his hand at receiver.
“I’m happy with the group,” Sheahan said of his small band of quarterbacks. “Nate’s coming along real good; Duffy’s probably as good as you can get for a freshman, and Kyle Gouveia is a very sharp guy, a 95 per cent student, and he’s made some plays early in camp.
“He’s not big and physical like the other two guys; he’s more of an accurate guy. He makes good decisions. You can always find a place for a guy like that on your team.”
The Gaels, coming off a 3-5 year when they were actually 4-4—having lost a victory for using an academically ineligible player—will play an exhibition game Sunday in Montreal, against Sheahan’s alma mater, the Concordia Stingers.
“We’re still a young team,” he said. “We have what I would say is just enough experience. We’re fairly experienced in some of the more physical positions, on the line of scrimmage, and although we may not be heavily laden with seniors in the skill spots, we are athletic.”
Two of the biggest questions this year involve whether the offensive line—inexperienced last year but welcoming the return of Nick Romanchuk after two seasons lost to injury—can play well enough to protect an inexperienced quarterback; and how a corps of young linebackers and defensive backs will react to what was at times last fall a torturous baptism of fire.
Sheahan, however, has a more esoteric wish: that his team develops what he calls the requisite level of competitive excellence. “The whole idea of holding together at key points in a ball game,” he explained
“Last year, if we’re going to use 2014 as the comparison—which we inevitably will do—we were a team that won the games we were supposed to win; we came close in a couple of others, and then there were a couple of teams at the top of the heap that we didn’t match up well against.
“What we want to do is get back into the upper echelon of the league.”
That, of course, won’t be apparent for a while, so in the meantime, Sheahan will remain, as all coaches are after two days of training camp, optimistic.
“We’ve been dealing with under-sell and over-deliver guys here for decades,” he said, “so I would say the jury is still out.
“It looks to me as though we do have some athletes. We’ve got some guys who can run, we’ve got some guys who can catch. The offensive line came back in very good shape; they’re big, strong, fit. The defensive line, it looks like we’re going to play with a little bit of an edge up front.
“I’m impressed with the intelligence of our guys. It’s a smart group, and smart groups go far around here.”