Searching to find the championship winning recipe for his Sudbury Gladiators football team, head coach Brent Richer is thinking he might have stumbled across the perfect mix in 2012.
Now in his fourth year with the team, Richer has guided formations over the past few years that have been either trademark slow, methodical, big, ball-controlling teams, or conversely fast, quick strike, big play oriented teams.
He sees the current crew as a very nice mix of both.
"This team is big and fast," Richer said, just prior to the Gladiators' season-opening 31-7 win over the Nipissing Wild May 26. "I'm very excited to see how we develop."
A big part of that enthusiasm is based on a solid core of returning talent, starting with third-year quarterback Dan Poirier. The veteran from Collège Notre-Dame has added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame, while not sacrificing the elusiveness for which he is known.
"Dan's doing a much better job this year of recognizing who is on the field, what personnel he has and what he can do with that personnel," Richer said.
Depth at pivot could be a concern, this year, with underage Confederation junior Aaron Campbell pressed into service with the older varsity team as back-up quarterback.
The backfield, anchored by Lasalle's Scott Smith, is deep and varied, with the likes of Zach Roque, Christian Battistelli, Louis Chartrand, Dalton Ghent and Austin Kirkey all expected to get touches on the ball.
But make no mistake — having seen plenty of playing time last summer due to the injury to Josh Cuomo, Smith is "the man" at running back.
"Scott has proven time and time again that he's our guy," Richer said. "He understands the systems, the blocking."
The receiving corps is equally impressive, with a pair of impact newcomers joining veterans Justin Duff, Alex Carriere, Matt Boileau and Ryan Rochon. St. Benedict wideout Matt Vettoretti has added another dimension of blazing speed to the outside routes, while Lasalle QB Rob Staszak moves inside, bringing along his football awareness that is key.
Turnover is prevalent on the offensive line, but it's hardly a concern for Richer. Center Troy Kingsbury is back in town after spending one summer with the OVFL finalist Mississauga Warriors.
The balance of the line, which Richer describes as big and strong, features Bauer Negrych, Spencer Dailey, Brady Wallace and Jacob Czaja. If Richer is excited about his offence, he is absolutely giddy about a defensive unit that returns nine starters from one year ago.
Defensive ends Will Harding and Dwytt Campbell both return, with newcomers Matt Langevin (CND) and Logan Bisschops (BAC) enjoying a seamless transition to the Ontario Football Conference (OFC).
SDSSAA Defensive Player of the Year Ian Thomson provides essential stability at middle linebacker, flanked by a grouping that will likely include Brett MacDonald, Michael Fabiilli, Cameron MacDonald, Will Andrews and Christopher Fabiilli at various times.
Rounding out a defence that, by Richer's own admission, has pretty much had its way with the Sudbury offence in practice, is a secondary core that is quick, physical and experienced.
The Notre-Dame tandem of Pat Boileau and Zach Charlebois will man the corners, with Eric Donaldson and Kennedy Voz at halfback and 2011 interception king Emerson Carniel back at safety.
In a relative rarity at this level of football, even the special teams can be considered better than average, according to Richer. Of course, it doesn't hurt when your kicker, Travis Perrin, has shown the ability to split the uprights from 60 yards away or more.
More importantly, with 57 bodies in camp and plenty who have potential to play, the special teams are filled with hard-hitting talent.
"The bulk of our special teams are made up of DBs and linebackers who are flying around and like to hit," Richer said.
Players like Dylan Ricciuto and Justin Ealdama are a coach's dream when is comes to rounding out the lineup, with Richer noting that not a single starter will necessarily have to see playing time on the specialty units, such is the depth with the 2012 Gladiators.
While he's not about to provide prediction fodder for the Sudbury opponents, it is clear that Richer and the returning core of Gladiators still have some unfinished business on their minds — the result of a 20-17 loss in the 2011 conference final to the Huronia Stallions.
The hope prevails that the recipe for success in 2012 leads to a first trip to the league final in Sudbury Gladiators' history.
The Gladiators travel south to take on the Toronto Jr. Argos June 3, before returning home June 9 to host the Huronia Stallions.
Posted by Laurel Myers