After a disappointing season in 2014, players, coaches and supporters of UBC football are hoping to see a more successful season ahead.
This year, UBC football will be under the leadership of a new head coach, Blake Nill. With three Vanier Cup appearances in the last nine years and six straight Hardy Cup Championships and a recent Canada West coach of the year title in 2013, Nill is one of the most successful CIS coaches around.
David Sidoo, who heads the 13th Man Foundation to fundraise for UBC football, believes that Nill’s ability to instil a competitive mentality in the players will drive the team toward a successful season.
“I think the culture that Coach Nill is trying to bring to the program now is, [that] it’s not good enough just to suit up. You’ve got to be competitive and give it everything you have,” said Sidoo.
Joining Nill this year is new associate head coach and offensive coordinator, Steve Buratto. With over 40 years of coaching experience, Buratto coached the Calgary Dinos alongside Nill during the past two years, where they led the team to a Vanier Cup game in 2013.
“He’s like a man with a PhD in football.... I go to him all the time if I need advice or input, so I appreciate sincerely having him on staff,” said Nill.
In addition to coaching, this year, UBC football also has the top-ranked recruiting class of all CIS teams according to the Canada Football Chat and the team ranked seventh coming into the season.
One of the recruits this year is Michael O’Connor. After being a redshirt at Penn State last year, O’Connor successfully played his first game with the Thunderbirds this year against Laval on August 29, where he threw an impressive 292 yards to take UBC to a 41-16 victory.
“It’s very exciting knowing that we’ll have a chance in every game to be competitive and to know that we have a lot of good players on the team,” said O’Connor.
O’Connor was ranked as the U.S.’s sixth best high school quarter prospect by ESPN in 2014. O’Connor shocked many in the football world with this transfer. Penn State regularly draws crowds of 100,000, while UBC struggles to reach the thousands.
Other notable players to watch out for are returning brothers Marcus and Terrell Davis. Marcus has already set a record this season, with a 102-yard touchdown pass, the longest reception in UBC’s history. Terrell played his first collegiate game against Laval and had a team leading six stops.
Troy Hansen, Trivel Pinto and Taylor Loffler are all new to UBC and players to keep an eye on this season, according to Buratto.
Thunderbirds football will also be receiving support off the field this year. After observing practices on August 19, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said he would helping and advising the team throughout the upcoming season.
“The fact that he even knows about UBC football and shows some interest in it is very special, and so anything that Warren can give us will benefit the program,” said Nill.
Last season, UBC football finished with a 2-6 record, but this year, the combination of on-field talent and off-field support should produce a successful season.
The Thunderbirds, under Nill’s guidance, have taken to the field twice already. Travelling to Quebec, the Thunderbirds played against CIS powerhouses Laval in an exhibition match. In a game that surprised football fans across Canada, UBC walked over the Laval, winning 41-16, and out-throwing the Rouge et Or 352 yards to 161. The Thunderbirds were then routed by Nill's former team, the Dino's, 49-16.
Only time will tell if the team, with its revamped coaching staff, star-studded recruiting class and big donors can win games and, more importantly, draw a crowd.
With files from Koby Michaels