The University of Regina football team is getting back onto the gridiron as training camp gets underway Saturday.
While some familiar faces are returning— including Hec Crighton-winning quarterback Noah Picton and last season’s team MVP running back Atlee Simon — the team will be without two former rookies of the year on the defensive side of the ball.
Both defensive lineman Nicholas Dheilly, 2016 Canada-West Rookie of the Year and linebacker Nick Cross have de-committed from the team and have joined the Okanagan Sun of the British Columbia Football Conference.
Cross had been named the 2017 U SPORTS Rookie of the Year but had the award stripped from him after testing positive for marijuana.
According to U SPORTS rules, both players must wait a year before they can join another university program.
Rams head coach Stephen Bryce said they never want to lose talented players, but noted sometimes a team just isn’t a fit with certain players.
“They’re trying to find the best fit for themselves going forward and I think they’re in a better place and we’re in a better place,” Bryce said.
Bryce said both players had approached him about wanting to go elsewhere and gave their reasons for wanting to leave.
“I’m not going to stand in the way of them trying to find their success.”
He said Dheilly had approached him and his defensive coordinator about leaving so he wasn’t surprised by that departure, but was a bit surprised when Cross said he would be leaving in July.
He said they immediately started to look for defensive line help after Dheilly made his intentions known, but they had also started to prepare for a season without Cross already after he suffered an Achilles tear in January.
According to their coach, the Rams are heading into training camp with no shortage of talent at any position.
One of the players who will be asked to help make up for the loss of Dheilly is Kyle Forde, who comes to the Rams after racking up 18 sacks in four seasons with St. Francis Xavier University — making him that school’s all-time sacks leader.
Joining Simon and Picton as returning players for the Rams is fifth-year linebacker Danny Nesbitt.
“Some of those outstanding leaders who are now going into their fifth-year, those guy’s were integral in keeping this together and keeping a happy face in the locker room through some pretty tough times,” Bryce said, referencing a three-year stretch that saw the team led by three different head coaches.
“They could be coaches here, they’re real good students of the game they’re outstanding leaders in the locker room and on the field, they bring other people up, they make people perform at a higher level so it’s crucial having those guys on the field.
The goal of training camp is to determine how the depth chart for the team will turn out for when they open the season.
Despite it being in the mid-30s temperature-wise on Saturday, Bryce said the team will still be out there getting the work in.