By Alexander Cole
In the 2015 season, the Concordia Stingers football team finished off the year with a 4-4 record which earned them their second straight playoff appearance in a row under head coach Mickey Donovan. With the team’s significant improvement over the last few seasons, Donovan is still looking at ways to improve the team, which has been shown through the team’s recent recruitment efforts.
“Overall our recruitment class has been strong,” Donovan said. “There’s probably still a handful of guys out there that we are looking at to fill out some key positions.”
So far, the Stingers have mainly recruited players that play on the defensive side of the ball. In January, the team announced the recruitment of Jizreel Botat and Jersey Henry—two defensive backs who played for Vanier College.
Donovan said that he expects both Botat and Henry to compete for a starting position on the team next year and make an impact on defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Stingers have recruited Matthew Halbgewachs, an offensive lineman from Regina, who played for the Regina Thunder, and also spent some time on the practice roster of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The team also recruited offensive lineman Brandon Pacheco, who has played his whole life in the United States.
“We’re trying to find the best 12 guys on defense and the same with offense,” Donovan said. “The key positions, that we really focused on, were the offensive line since Roman Grozman is going to the CFL draft, and defensive backs, with Mikael Charland who is also going to the draft.”
“We need guys who can come in and compete right away, that’s why we recruit so heavily in Quebec,” Donovan said.
For Donovan, the number-one thing he looks for when recruiting players is academics. While football skills are important, academics and personality are some of the most important traits a player can have.
“[Academics] are a strength that we want for all of our players,” he said. “School is not easy for everyone. For some it comes easy and for others, they have to work hard at it. If the players don’t have a 3.0 average, we look at their personality, what type of work ethic do they have and what type of background they come from.”
When looking at players, Donovan and his coaching staff talk to the players’ coaches to understand what kind of attitude each player has. Donovan is looking for players who are good people and will care for others, especially their teammates.
“We feel that Concordia is a family,” Donovan said. “We need to have people in this family that believe that as well. If you recruit a guy that is all about himself, it will never work here with us.”
In terms of recruits and their willingness to sign on with Concordia, Donovan cites the school’s academics as a big reason why players want to come here. For Donovan, when it comes to selling Concordia to potential recruits, the team sells the players on getting an education as opposed to playing football. Donovan believes that the education offered by the university has allowed it to pick up more recruits and even players from the United States.
Concordia president Alan Shepard has also been a big help when recruiting players as he often meets with prospective recruits to talk academics and the opportunities available at Concordia.
In the last two seasons, the team has been able to improve from a 0-8 record in 2013, to a 5-3 record in 2014 and 4-4 record in 2015, which has given the football program a better reputation. According to Donovan, this is another reason why players are starting to give more consideration to the Stingers program.
“[New recruits] are all excited to be here,” Donovan said.
As Donovan described, Concordia is a program that has the potential to be ranked high on the national level, which is another reason why players are so excited to come to Concordia. They believe that the Stingers are going in the right direction.
Once the off-season begins and recruits start training with the team, Donovan makes sure that recruits are treated like everyone else in order to integrate them into the system. Each player has an equal opportunity at winning a starting spot; a spot which has to be earned through hard work.
The team is currently participating in winter practices held in the Stingers dome at the Loyola campus. Players will also be training throughout the summer in preparation for the upcoming season, which Donovan believes could be a standout season for the Stingers.
When Donovan took over the team in 2014, the team had just come off of a winless season in the RSEQ division. In his first two seasons as coach, the team has improved when it comes to playing top level teams such as the Laval Rouge et Or and the Montreal Carabins.
In 2015, the Stingers lost to the Carabins twice, once by 12 points and the second by five. According to Donovan, this is a significant improvement from his first season as head coach.
Last year’s team was young as many players were in their first year. However, with a season’s worth of experience under their belts, Donovan feels as though the team will be much more mature. With players like quarterback Trenton Miller returning to the team, and the new recruits that have been brought in, expectations are high.
“Our guys are getting better and we’re committing ourselves,” Donovan said. “We’re all excited for next season. Every year you go in with high expectations and there is no reason why we shouldn’t.”