Ernesto Carranza looks at the mammoth offensive lineman in front of him and smiles.
“It’s going to be a good year,” the Holland College running back said Thursday night before practice. “It feels great to have the big hoggies pulling their weight up front.”
The 22-year-old Mermaid native hopes those guys open some running lanes for him and his fellow backs while providing starting quarterback Nick Hunsley time to complete passes downfield.
The Hurricanes start the defence of their Atlantic Football League title Saturday when they travel to Saint John to play the UNBSJ Seawolves at 7 p.m. They play their first home game Sept. 22 at 1 p.m. when UNB Fredericton come to McAdam Field on the UPEI campus.
“We’re looking good this year,” said Michael Antoine, a six-foot-eight, 360-pound left tackle in his second year with the club.
“We have high expectations on ourselves to repeat again.”
Does that come with added pressure?
“We don’t feel it,” said Carranza, a third-year player. “It’s all about us. It’s all about the team, so we’re looking for that second ring.”
Dale Pickstock Jr. is one of the team’s new players looking for his first ring. The six-foot-four, 375-pound played centre in the Bahamas, but will transition to guard in Charlottetown.
“I am used to controlling the ball and controlling the line, but I will get used to it,” he said.
He is one of eight Bahamians on the football team and about 50 enrolled at the college. The college started recruiting there about eight years ago and now has one of the largest contingents of Bahamian students in Canada.
The Hurricanes will be without two-time MVP Demetrius Ferguson, linebacker Marcus Dunphy, top lineman Owen MacWilliams and Dave Clark, the league’s leading rusher, this year. The team’s leading tackler and rookie of the year, defensive end Ryan Adams, chose not return to school this fall.
“Obviously, we have some big holes to fill,” said second-year head coach Mark MacDougall.
“But we have just wrapped up a very competitive training camp and I like what I see.”
The Hurricanes had close to 70 players in camp the past two weeks, with more than 30 new recruits vying for roster spots.
Last season’s championship, in only the team’s second year in the league, gave the program profile and was a positive factor in off-season recruitingt.
“Winning does make a difference,” said team president Mike O’Grady.
“Last year put us on the football map. It’s obvious in both the number and the quality of the players we have attracted and retained this year.”
The players said it is important to get off to a good start in the opening game of their six-game regular season.
“We’re going to win that game and for the rest of the season we’re going to carry it through all the way to the championship,” Carranza said.
Breaking down the Hurricanes
The following is a look at the Holland College Hurricanes football team for the upcoming season.
– The super-sized offensive line is anchored by huge tackles Michael Antoine (six-foot-eight, 360 pounds) and Vernon Sainvil (six-foot-four, 290 pounds). Veteran Ryan Payne (six-foot-two, 310 pounds) takes over at centre, flanked by rookie guards Zach Davidson (six-foot, 230 pounds) from St. Stephen High in New Brunswick and Chris Miller (six-foot-five, 265 pounds) from Malden High School in Massachusetts. Bahamian Dale Pickstock (six-foot-four, 375 pounds) and Charlottetown native Jonathan Bouchey (six-foot-two, 310 pounds) will also see lots of action.
– Third-year quarterback Nick Hunsley is back to lead an offensive attack that was tops in the league last season. The police science graduate will be backed up by strong-throwing rookie Greg Brown from Horton High in Wolfville, N.S. Brown’s father, Norman, starred for Colonel Gray in the Island High School League several decades ago. Taylor Thorne, a product of the Island Tackle League, provides additional depth at quarterback.
– The receiving corps is an experienced one with Luke Williams, Robbie Tufts and Leslie Greene. All are capable of big gains after the catch. Charlottetown’s Chris Barrett will compete for a starting position, as will veteran Josh Bethel.
– With Dave Clark’s departure, finding a replacement for the game-breaking running back was an off-season priority. In the duo of Jordan Blizzard and Chucky Ortiz, the Hurricanes may have the answer. Blizzard, a power runner who played previously with UNBSJ, can line up in the backfield or the slot. Ortiz, out of Woburn High School in Massachusetts, is a prototypical tailback who will also handle punt and kick returns. Also back from last year is the versatile and reliable Ernesto Carranza.
– Kicking duties will be handled by Alex Quinn and Dimo Moslemi.
– The Hurricanes line is big and quick. Defensive end Nathan Conway (six-foot-two, 245 pounds) is one of the league’s top linemen. Rookie Kay Okafor (six-foot-three, 235 pounds), a true football rookie, has had an impressive camp and will compete for the other end position. Guards Aaron Cook (six-foot-one, 290 pounds), who missed all of last year with an injury, and veteran Tom Lund (six-foot, 255 pounds) will fill in the middle of the line. Rookies Tiger Macintosh (five-foot-eleven, 250 pounds) from The Bahamas and Alex Mutch (six-foot-one, 305 pounds) from the Cornwall Timberwolves will see significant playing time.
– With the graduation of Marcus Dunphy, there were some preseason doubts at the linebacker position. However, the linebacking corps shows great experience and depth with former CIS (Acadia) and CJFL player Andrew Oakes, veterans Ben Sherren, Thomas McCabe and Richard Lush, and rookies Ian Bagby (Northeast Metro Tech, Wakefield, Mass.) and Will Stewart (Horton High School, Wolfville, N.S.).
– The defensive secondary may have even more depth than last year’s shutdown group. Led by veterans Wildens Sertyl, Patrick LeFrank, Jonathan Gallant and Dimo Moslemi, plus newcomers Alex Fitzpatrick (Island Tackle League MVP with Souris Wildcats), Garvin Cius (Malden, Mass.), Wayde Higgs (Bahamas), and Ian MacNeil (Dr. John Hugh Gillis, Antigonish, N.S.); the d-backs are strong, fast and ball-hungry.