Exhibition football, with a twist, is coming to St. F.X.’s Oland Stadium this weekend.
The X-Men will host the AUS rival Mount Allison Mounties, along with the OUA’s Guelph Gryphons, for the Summer Showdown.
Veteran X-Men head coach Gary Waterman explained the afternoon on the gridiron, which is set to begin at noon, will include six 15-minute quarters, with each team playing the other two for two quarters.
“Everyone will still get there four quarters of football, but we are calling them six mini-games, if you will,” he said.
Waterman noted, as part of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) transition to five teams, with the addition of the Bishop’s Gaiters, the conference could assess its approach to exhibition action.
“The door became open where you could play someone outside conference for the first time in I don’t know how long,” he said.
Waterman added Bishop’s is “doing its own thing,” with the consideration of minimizing travel costs, and playing an exhibition game closer to home, which left the other four teams – Acadia, Mount Allison, Saint Mary’s and St. F.X. – to be scheduled against each other.
“If you got an exhibition game and the other team [Mount Allison] that you were scheduled to play got an exhibition game, then perfect – you could go play who you want to play,” he continued.
“But, if you got a game and they didn’t get a game, you can’t just go play and leave them without a game.”
He said the Guelph Gryphons approached the X-Men, with an interest in making a trip east and playing in Antigonish.
“We were very interested,” Waterman said.
The issue – the Mounties could not line-up an out-of-conference opponent.
“We started to think about how we could make it work, so we came up with the idea of having the three-team format, where Mount A was scheduled to come here [Aug. 18],” Waterman said, adding the Gryphons will also come on that date and “get the trip they wanted.”
With the new-look five-team league, changes include an earlier start to the regular season that, of course, means the same for training camp.
After an administrative day (Aug. 10), on the next day (Aug. 11), the X-Men conducted testing in the morning and were on the field in the afternoon.
During an Aug. 4 conversation, Waterman anticipated there would be 96 players in training camp.
“When it is all said and done, we end up between 95 and 100,” he noted, when asked how that expected number compares to other seasons.
Waterman described the timeline for this training camp as “interesting.”
“It is a little bit different,” he said, noting it would usually run until the first game of the regular season in other years.
“But, at the end of our first regular season game [Aug. 25, at Saint Mary’s], students still won’t be here, so we won’t be doing the same sort of style, but we will consider it camp all the way up until the students arrive,” Waterman explained.
“It will still be part of camp, although we will be into our season, but we won’t be running our normal two-a-days, like we would usually do.”
St. F.X. students start arriving on campus Sept. 2.
“You have the issue with players who are finishing up jobs; some have commitments, so they are trying to work through that. Of course, when someone hires them, they have got to work through,” Waterman said, in talking about the new challenges with the early start.
“From a coaching standpoint, the biggest thing is about trying to make sure that we look at the overall picture because the tendency is, if you have more time, you think you should be doing more, but you can burn them out.
“We want to be conscious of not wearing them out. Even though they don’t have classes, we want to treat it like a normal week like we would, if classes were there, in terms of being on the field,” he added.
Waterman noted, with that extra time, there may be space for another meeting.
“But we, definitely, don’t want to burn them out and burn their legs out, on the field, too much,” he said.
When asked about the X-Men’s recruiting class, Waterman said they are “very happy.”
“We had some specific needs on the D-line and we addressed them with some really quality players,” he said.
“We also went after – we wanted a young quarterback, and we have one coming in.
“And, we have a sprinkling of guys that have talent – across the board – to bolster our depth on our roster,” Waterman added.
He noted the class has “strong, strong players and also some depth.”
The 2017 X-Men will be playing to fashion a three-peat, when it comes to conference championships.
“We made it to the national semi-final and got a chance to play in those games,” Waterman said, when asked about expectations for this season.
“The first time that we did it [a home loss to UBC] – we were, sort of, happy to be there; while, the second time [a road last year to Calgary], we felt like we had a legit chance and we got better.
“I think our players are building off that excitement – that knowledge that we can do this, again, and, hopefully, win our conference and we have the ability to get beyond that,” he added.
Waterman noted “everyone’s goal” is taking that next step – an appearance in a Vanier Cup.
“I think, from the moment our season was over [last year], that’s how players were thinking; they knew we were close, they knew that we could keep continuing to get better and keep continuing this trend, which is I think where their mindset is,” he said.
Of course, he reiterated, the first step is capturing a third-consecutive conference championship, while noting the AUS winner this season will host the USPORTS semi-final game.
“You want to be that team that hosts and gives yourself a chance to get to the national championship and win that,” Waterman said.
The X-Men will open their home regular season schedule Friday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m., when they host the Mounties.