VANCOUVER- The UBC Thunderbirds have officially taken to the turf at David Sidoo Field for the first time in 2016. No longer 2015 Vanier Cup Champions, the T-Birds now must get used to the moniker of 'defending champions'.
"It's a whole different mindset," says UBC Head Coach Blake Nill. "We are looking to build upon the success of last season."
The Thunderbirds are in some ways victims of their own success in 2015. No less than five defensive starters, along with Vanier Cup winning kicker Quinn van Gylswyk, have graduated to play on CFL rosters.
On defence alone new Defensive Coordinator Pat Tracey has lost three game breakers, safety Taylor Loffler (Winnipeg Blue Bombers) along with linebackers Terrell Davis and Mitch Barnett (both to Hamilton Tiger-Cats).
"You don't replace players like that," says Nill. "You hope to develop new ones who are capable of playing at the high level those athletes did."
The defensive players left behind are younger, but hungry to prove that they are capable of taking the next step up the depth chart.
"I'm very excited for the season to begin," says second-year linebacker Charles Nwoye. "I think it's perfect that we all learnt what it took to win and succeed at a championship level last year."
"I want to be faster and make plays all over the field," says second-year linebacker Dylan Chapdelaine, who spent the off-season rigorously monitoring his diet to the point where he is 22 pounds lighter than last year. "I'm ready to go."
The offensive side of the ball should be as lethal as they were in 2015. Offensive Coordinator Steve Buratto and the new man in charge of the Thunderbird receivers, former BC Lion stand-out Paris Jackson, have virtually all their weapons back from a season ago. The main arrow in their quiver is the man at the helm, quarterback Michael O'Connor, who is noticeably thicker and stronger to begin the 2016 season, showing the results of an intensive off-season conditioning program.
Throw in the speed and versatility of returning skill players Marcus Davis, Trivel Pinto, and Alex Morrison and the offence should be able to burn out the lamps on scoreboards across the CIS.
Eight games. That is the length of a CIS season. It's a short season, but anything can happen. The Thunderbirds are poised and ready to take on the challenge of being the CIS team with the largest bulls-eye on their back.