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August 15, 2018

Bisons 2018 Camp Report

They finished with their worst record in two decades – just 2-6, after a 3-5 mark in 2016 – and were staring up at the rest of the teams in the Canada West Conference.

So to say that last season did not go well for the University of Manitoba Bisons football team would be a colossal understatement.

“When you have a year like we had, the worst in 20 years, I think really bad things can happen in a program because of things like that,” said head coach Brian Dobie. “They can whine and complain, feel sorry for themselves, point fingers and let that manifest into ugliness. That can take a program right to rock bottom.

“They didn’t do that. They took the bull by the horns and they fought. They did so many good things, like players-only meetings and giving people freedom to talk, instead of being defensive. The locker room worked itself out really well.”

The Bisons started last season 0-4, and after making a change at quarterback from Theo Deezar to Des Catellier, split the final half of the season to finish with a 2-6 record. Catellier is one of three quarterbacks in training camp, along with Scott Borden and Jon Rempel.

Photo: Chantal Zdan

“Theo was such a good player for us, and that was such a big hit, losing him,” said Dobie of Deezar not returning for his final season. “Now the opportunity is there for Des Catellier, the incumbent starter. He is fighting for the starting spot with Scott Borden and John Rempel as well.”

Catellier finished last season with a completion percentage of 59.2, 1,142 passing yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions in just five games.

The Bisons suffered through some growing pains last year in fielding such a young team. Six of the team’s Top 10 tacklers were either freshmen or sophomores, and two of the three leading receivers were sophomores. Dobie now believes that youth has turned into a strength, as most of last year’s team has returned which allows them to build sustainable continuity moving forward.

That being said, there are always holes from year to year and the Bisons have lost four defensive backs heading into this season. That is headlined by the loss of fourth-year player Eric Plett, who stepped away from football due to injuries. Plett only suited up for three games last season, yet his leadership will be sorely missed in the secondary.

“(Plett) is an outstanding defensive back,” said Dobie. “He would have been the perfect guy to finalize the five guys in the secondary. Now we need to find a starting field half, and there are four or five guys available to that. We do have options, like sliding over linebacker Houston Rennie or looking at any other one of our DBs.

“I think we have quality players to fill in some of those spots.”

Photo: Chantal Zdan

Rennie finished the 2017 season with 34 tackles, a sack and two tackles for a loss working in his linebacker spot.

Returning players aren’t the only thing to excite fans this year, as the Bisons had a great recruiting season, picking up players who can help contribute to winning now, and players who can wait in the wings to be quality players down the road.

The most talented position on the team – the defensive line – was made even more powerful this off-season with the additions of Jeremie Drouin, formerly of the Westshore Rebels, Guelph transfer Chris Larsen, and Winnipeg native and former Winnipeg Rifles star Samson Abbott.

“It’s nice to be back playing against guys I think I’m at the level of,” said Abbott, who was originally a member of the Alberta Golden Bears, of returning to USports. “I bring high effort, high character, and a lot of athleticism. I chose to come to Manitoba after Alberta specifically because of the coaches. They can bring me up to speed and guide me to that level.”

Along the offensive line, the Bison recruited three players from the high-school level that Dobie believes can transform into conference all-stars, All-Canadians and possible professional draft picks. Headlining that group is St.Paul’s graduate Kyle Wilfer, who helped the Crusaders win the 2017 Anavets Bowl.

“It’s super cool,” said Wilfer of finally being at the University level. “The speed is different, the strength is different, there is a lot of adjusting. That’s exciting to me. This season I hope to get better… the strength and conditioning program here is amazing and the therapists are amazing. I’ve got to be good to go and if an opportunity opens up I’ll be ready.”

Bisons training camp runs until August 31 and their first exhibition game is August 22 at the University of Regina. Their season begins September 1 on the road against the UBC Thunderbirds, and their home opener at Investors Group Field is September 7 against the Saskatchewan Huskies.