The defending Atlantic University Sport (AUS) football champions may be on the outside looking in, when it comes to the conference playoffs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t optimism when it comes to the future of the St. F.X. X-Men varsity program.
“We knew, with our losses from last season, that we would need to make some adjustments,” head coach Gary Waterman said in a post-season interview.
Those ‘adjustments,’ included the addition of many “newer and young faces” to the White and Blue line-up.
“We improved – more and more – as the season went on,” he added.
Sandwiched between victories over the Mount Allison Mounties and Saint Mary’s Huskies were six consecutive regular-season defeats.
“We played with a lot of desire, heart and pride all season, including down the stretch, when we knew we were out of the playoff race,” Waterman said.
When it comes to the 14-4 season finale road win over the Huskies, which knocked their perennial rivals out of the conference playoffs, the veteran bench boss said the X-Men “showed a lot of character.”
“I was so proud of everyone,” he added.
Looking ahead, the X-Men staff has already started its recruiting season, which Waterman said is “off to a good start.”
He added the program has three players committed to the program, while “we are close to a number of others.”
“All positions are open,” Waterman said.
In the recruiting process, he explained, the program is looking to upgrade talent and have players “push each other.”
Along with football talent, Waterman noted potential X-Men must “be a good person” and show dedication to the academic side of being a varsity student-athlete.
Freshman defensive back defensive back Jay Turnsek, who arrived on the Antigonish campus from North Bay, Ontario, is a prime example of what they are looking for in potential X-Men.
“He played every down this season and he was tremendous,” Waterman said of his player, who also excelled on special teams, describing him as “impactful.”
Also, when it comes to newcomers this season, he talked about the running back duo of Chase Bowden and Zac Kuhn.
“They improved each game,” Waterman said, noting Kuhn was “excelling” before injury, particularly in his yards-per-carry.
Freshman Che Morales was one of the offensive linemen who helped make holes for that pair.
“He has a bright future,” Waterman said of the Dartmouth native.
With an ailing Keiran Burnham unable to kick in one game, rookie Max Capriotti got an opportunity to show his skills, providing what the head coach called “an outstanding performance” in the home finale versus the Bishop’s Gaiters.
Next fall, Capriotti will be one of the student-athletes competing to replace Burnham, who joins linebacker Gordon Whyte, offensive lineman Connor Perry and defensive back Johnny Obdam as X-Men who have exhausted their eligibility.
During upcoming season-ending exit interviews, Waterman noted there will be discussions with X-Men, who have the option of returning for a fifth campaign, about whether or not they plan to return.