Rita Mingo, Special to Canada West
CALGARY – By all accounts, this wasn't really supposed to be the Calgary Dinos' year on the gridiron.
With a relatively small number of seniors and a whole bunch of rookies and sophomores sprinkled liberally throughout their roster, this might have been one of those experience-gaining type seasons.
But experience isn't the only thing the Dinos reaped in 2018. By the time the regular season wrapped up, they were an unblemished 8-0 and made it nine wins when they defeated the Manitoba Bisons 37-13 in their Hardy Cup semifinal.
The next step? An 11th straight appearance in the Canada West championship game.
For the first-years, those who haven't yet experienced losing, staying on an even keel is a lot harder than it sounds.
"Definitely it's something the coaches have been saying all week, because we are a pretty young team," agreed receiver Tyson Philpot, who was named CW Rookie of the Year Thursday. "Just keep a level head. After the Hardy Cup, we have two more trophies to win. It'll definitely be great to win the Hardy Cup, but just keep a level head because the ultimate goal is to win the Vanier."
"I'm getting butterflies early because it's a big game," admitted his twin, Jalen Philpot. "It's our 11th consecutive (Hardy Cup) game. It's going to be a good one. We're going to come in like nothing's happened in the regular season. We're just going to battle and try to beat Saskatchewan."
The Huskies provide a stern test for the Dinos on Saturday at McMahon Stadium, as they're coming off a victory over the highly-touted UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver. But for the youngsters on the Calgary squad, it's business as usual in terms of preparation.
The Philpot boys out of Delta, B.C. – sons of former CFL running back Cory Philpot – have been an integral part of the offence. Tyson, in particular, has shone with 741 receiving yards and four touchdowns during the regular season. His brother has contributed with 323 yards and three TDs.
"All the leaders on our team, they've taken us under their wing," Tyson explained. "Both Coach Jabari (Arthur) and Coach (Ryan) Sheahan have been able to make plays for all of us to succeed, keep us all to our strengths."
"To come into this program, the history behind this program, and just be able to start and make plays has been amazing," echoed Jalen. "All the rookies knew it was going to be a challenge and we just worked hard and the coaches here are amazing. They teach us everything we need to know to go out on the field. Our offensive coordinator, Coach Sheahan, he'll literally tell us what we need to know and what's going to happen and it's funny, because you'll see it exactly as he said it. It just makes it so much easier because he can tell you what's going to happen. And you can make the play."
The Philpots are but two rookies who have enjoyed significant playing time. When fourth-year running back Jeshrun Antwi was injured, Burnaby's Robinson Rodrigues filled in admirably. On defence, Tyrece Best and Josh Hyer are just a couple of freshmen to fill out the D-line. The list goes on.
"They've done a great job coming in and learning our systems," said head coach Wayne Harris Jr. "Working hard in the film room and understanding how we do things here at Calgary. The big thing I think is having those leaders that surround them that have been down this way before. It's great that they have developed in the way we hoped they would and been able to execute at a high level. We're still young and still learning, but it's definitely been a good situation that's kind of exceeded where we maybe thought we would be at this time. But it's a constant challenge."
And then there's the offensive line. A handful of second- and first-years have manned that all-important unit, one that was instrumental in helping quarterback Adam Sinagra en route to his single season CW and U SPORTS passing record.
"One of the things we've talked about this year is that the development comes a lot through practice because when they're practising, they're practising against some great players," added Harris, named Canada West coach of the year for the third time. "So many of those guys have ended up in the CFL or have been drafted … when they know they can compete against those guys, they can pretty much compete against anybody in the country."
One of those rookies is Nicolas Auvigne, a St. Francis Browns' graduate.
"We have lots of competition," said the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder. "We're all taught the same. Coach (Paul) Carson teaches us what we have to be and what we strive to be. To be the best players we can be at all times. We're always fighting for our spots. New guys coming in, old guys, we're always rotating.
"It's all about the team, right? Everyone does their part. He (Sinagra) can achieve his goals, we can achieve our goals; it all works out. It's just unity."
The play of those lines will be key against the Huskies.
"They're more veteran than we are," Harris said. "They're big and physical. Make sure our guys are well prepared to match the intensity that Saskatchewan will bring. They're highly motivated right now, they're playing good football, and they seemed to be healthy at this time of the season.
"We're healthier than most years … knock on something here. It's always been a key for playoff success. Do you have your best line-up on the field? That's what you hope to do each year. Some years it works out, some years it doesn't."
Auvigne, for his part, takes a very un-rookie-like approach.
"It's just another game, right?" he said. "Do the best we can, what we know, what we do. Just another game."
You can find out more about the 82nd Hardy Cup, by visiting Hardy Cup Central.