The University of Regina Rams will kick off their 2018 season Friday with a bevy of returning veterans seeking a Vanier Cup.
The Rams, who come in ranked 10 in the nation, will open the season against the fifth-ranked Calgary Dinos.
“Every week is like a playoff week in Can-West,” said head coach Stephen Bryce.
“There’s no such thing as a week opponent here … the Margin between first and sixth is minutia, it’s tiny details, so we’re happy to test ourselves against a big dog right off the bat.”
While the Rams are ranked as one of the top teams in Canada, and top-three in Canada-West, Bryce said he prefers to be ranked lower to start the season.
“I’d rather be ranked dead-last at this point in the season and have somewhere to work up from, anything to this point is just hype,” Bryce said.
The Rams will welcome back many fifth-year players in their journey for the elusive Vanier Cup, which include quarterback Noah Picton, running back Atlee Simon and linebacker Danny Nesbitt.
“I know all the guys are biting at the bit to get out on the field and show everyone what we’ve been preparing the last half-a-year for,” Simon said.
Simon, who is already the school’s all-time leading rusher and touchdown leader, is entering his fifth and final season of U Sports eligibility.
“Every year I’ve had a goal set for myself — make East-West, get drafted, go to the combine, break those records — so this year is just focused on winning and helping the team do that to the best of my ability wherever I’m playing.”
Coach Bryce said Simon is expected to line up in many different positions on the field, including in the slot and out wide.
During this past CFL Draft, Simon was taken in the sixth round by the Calgary Stampeders. He said the team wants to see him play more special teams and prove he can block as a running back.
“Once the first kickoff starts in the regular season it just comes down to beating the guy in front of you and I think everyone’s really excited to do that to another team.”
Picton will also be chasing history in the opening game — he is 160 yards away from reaching the 10,000 yard mark for his career. He is also one touchdown pass away from entering the top 10 leaders in that category.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.
Bryce confident in defence
The Rams defence will need to overcome the losses of two former Can-West Rookies of the Year this season.
Both Nicholas Dheilly and Nick Cross de-committed from the program and are playing junior football in B.C.
The head coach reaffirmed his belief the team group is more than capable of filling those holes.
“We’ve got a locker room of great people. Really hard working, diligent, kids. Some of these guy were top recruits all across the country.”
Some of those players looking to make an impact are Chase Ellingson and Regina-native Jaxon Ford.
On the defensive line, Kyle Forde, who is St. Francis Xavier’s all-time leading sack leader, is also battling for a starting job.