The flag comes out at every practice and game. And emblazoned on the T-shirt of every Gryphon football squad member is the same slogan: Plant the Flag. That’s the rallying cry for this year’s varsity team.
Head coach Stu Lang says it’s intended to remind his team of last season’s ascent to the Yates Cup and subsequent loss to the McMaster University squad. “We climbed the mountain but forgot to plant the flag,” says Lang. “We’ve got to get back to the Yates Cup, and this time we’re going to plant the flag.”
He’s got a pretty stalwart group of standard-bearers. The Gryphons finished the regular season 7-1. The team had hoped for a first-round playoff bye but lost for the first time this season against Queen’s Gaels last weekend. So Guelph will play Windsor at Alumni Stadium on Saturday. Western (8-0) and Queen’s (7-1) get first-round playoff byes.
Interviewed before his team played its second-last regular season game against Carleton early this month, Lang said the team still had some gelling to do. At that point, the Gryphons were tied with Western in this season’s Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings and were fourth overall in Canadian football rankings.
Sounds impressive, but Lang says things can improve. Case in point: In its second outing this fall, Guelph struggled offensively against Windsor for most of the game. With only a minute left, the Gryphons were trailing by a couple of points. Quarterback Jazz Lindsey put together a two-reception drive from deep in his own end to bring the team within winning field-goal range.
Lang says he’d prefer to see everything clicking on both sides of the ball. Guelph’s defence ranks among the OUA top three in most categories, but he points to inconsistencies, and several key players are just returning from injuries.
“We want to play that complete game,” says Lang.
Running back Rob Farquharson agrees. He wants the team to dominate its opponents, so he’s focusing on reading the defence and pass routes – and putting in plenty of time practising and watching game film.
Farquharson says last year’s Yates Cup loss offered great lessons in “just knowing what it takes to win.”
A’Dre Fraser, wide receiver, says handling pressure is important. “I’m just a calm guy. I don’t really feel much pressure.”
Fixing mistakes and nailing down assignments will be the key for the team, says Ian Marouf, defensive lineman. “I just know where I have to be and where everybody around me is going, too.” He credits Coach Lang with smart recruiting, lots of “great schemes” on the field and help with academics.
In a program begun by Lang’s predecessor, Kyle Walters, players – including all rookies – meet weekly with a coach to plan the week’s schedule and review their academic record. Coaches may recommend tutors and mentors, supported learning groups and other resources under the Mental Mondays program.
“We like alliterations – Tackle Tuesdays, et cetera,” says Lang.
When asked what accounts for this year’s success on the field, he points to team character. That showed in a game against York, when Guelph’s defence stopped the Lions six times in a row on the goal line without yielding a point. “The true character of a team is revealed on the goal line,” he says.
Assessing character is part of recruiting, itself a full-time job for coaches. They’re looking for more than statistics. Rookies who were top players at high school arrive at U of G to find themselves perhaps not starting games. “It’s a tough thing at this level. Good character people handle that. We need character that places the team first and helps the team win rather than themselves.”
Lang arrived at Guelph in 2010. He was coaching at Upper Canada College, his former high school, when he met Walters and asked to guest coach at a Gryphons training camp. Walters invited Lang to join his coaching staff in 2009. After Walters moved to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, Lang became head coach. He donates his salary back to the team to pay for coaching support.
Lang had retired in 2005 as European president of his family’s specialty packaging business in Toronto. He played football for Queen’s University before being recruited by the Edmonton Eskimos. During his tenure from 1974 to 1981, Edmonton won the Grey Cup five times, including a record-setting four championships in a row.
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