Rita Mingo, Special to Canada West
CALGARY – Inevitably, everyone involved will talk about the game at hand.
"I hate to dull it down, but we're going up the highway to play football against a team that plays tough and plays hard," said Calgary Dinos' offensive coordinator Ryan Sheahan. "What matters the most to us is the elimination round."
"We play this game to win football games," pitched in quarterback Adam Sinagra. "The main focus right now is going into Alberta and make sure we're not limping into playoffs. If we're executing properly, good things happen. But the point is to win football games."
Yet, in the back of all minds is a little record chase – by the aforementioned Sinagra – that is pretty significant: the Canada West and U SPORTS single-season passing record, 3,186 yards, set in 2016 by Regina Rams' pivot Noah Picton. Sinagra needs 309 yards sto pass that mark, though it isn't the prime directive heading into Edmonton to face the Bears on Saturday afternoon, it's a huge talking point.
"Obviously, it would be a cool achievement," Sinagra, in his fourth season at Calgary, conceded. "I've always known in this offence you can put up a lot of numbers, the way we attack defences. From an overall team aspect, I did think we were going to be a real young team and there would be hurdles to overcome. But honestly, our rookies have stepped up. We have a special thing going this year and it's all about keeping our foot on the pedal and getting hot at the right time.
"It's not a huge thing," he said of the record. "We know it's there. But the way we look at it, we have more things to worry about down the line."
The record has been broken with some frequency over the past few years. Picton's current total broke that set by Dinos' Andrew Buckley in 2015 (3,162), which had bettered the 3,132 posted by Bishop's QB Jordan Heather in 2013.
This was supposed to be a season in which the Dinos would endure growing pains, given the relative inexperience at various positions. Instead, the squad has gone undefeated in its first seven games, finding ways to win in some games, while totally dominating in others.
While the defence has been steadfast, the offence has been hugely entertaining. Sinagra, aided by a young offensive line, has an enviable receiving corps to throw the ball to. And throw he does, with frequency and accuracy, short and long.
"It's a lot of fun to play in this offence every week," said Hunter Karl, recipient of 824 of Sinagra's 2,878 passing yards. "We're all excited for each other. We're seeing the ball spread around and everyone's getting touches. The kid works unbelievably hard. His work ethic speaks for itself. That's why he's in the position to get that record. We really want to get it for him."
"I think he's arriving right on time," acknowledged Sheahan. "I think the country got to see flashes of brilliance when he stepped in to play (for the injured Jimmy Underdahl) in the 2016 Vanier Cup. He definitely earned his stripes taking over the starter role and now he's playing at a very high level. He's seeing all the things they're tying to throw at him and, not only that, he's matured as a leader and really is a strong positive influence in the locker room, which I'm most proud of. Confidence is the most important 10-letter word in sports and he's playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Like the student he is, Sinagra has been an astute learner of the game. Whether it's Greg Vavra, an early Dinos' mentor, or Buckley, the former Calgary Stampeder who attends a couple of practices each week, or Erik Glavic, the team's quarterbacks coach and two-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner, or even Stamps' Dave Dickenson and Bo Levi Mitchell, with whom he hung around during that team's training camp – all have given him something to chew on.
"He takes everything Coach Sheahan says and is able to translate it into practice and games," said Glavic. "That's been the biggest thing that has impressed me."
When it comes to the final game of the year, with playoffs looming, coaches must be judicious in their handling of personnel, making sure everyone is as healthy as possible going forward. So how much playing time Sinagra gets is anyone's guess.
"We're not thinking about 308 yards," admitted Sheahan. "It's just about feeling good heading into the playoffs. Good things always come from playing hard and executing well. But we're not exactly striving to break it. If it happens, it happens."
"It's something that's huge," Glavic insisted. "Put yourself to the top of the record books is incredible. We're going into this game 7-0, but we're playing U of A, we always want to beat those guys up. If he can accomplish his goal, it'll be great. But if he doesn't, I think he's a little more focused on the Vanier anyway."
You can watch Sinagra and the Dinos take on the Alberta Golden Bears on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. MDT exclusively on Canada West TV.