Expectations never been higher for Lions entering 2016

Expectations never been higher for Lions entering 2016

2015 regular season record: 1-7

2015 regular season standings: 10th in OUA

2015 playoff record: N/A

2015 playoff finish: N/A

This fall York University Lions head football coach Warren Craney enters his seventh season at the helm of the program and expectations have never been higher for his squad. 

Craney and his staff reset after a challenging 2014 season and the program took a noticeable step forward last year, posting a victory over Waterloo in Week 5 and finishing the season with a narrow one-point loss to nationally-ranked Queen's in the finale. The positive results were thanks in large part to a remarkable recruiting class that produced four OUA all-rookie team members. This year's fortunes will once again rely on those same players and a new crop of rookies who will attempt to make the same impact, and for those reasons a top-six finish is squarely in their sights. 

In recent years the offence has shown it can move the ball, and this season Craney expects the defence to hold its own when called upon. The Lions are still young and will rely heavily on first- and second-year players, but with such a balanced roster and talent to burn, 2016 is shaping up to be the best yet for Craney and his program.

Quote from head coach:   

"We've got a solid foundation and we are looking to make a run at the playoffs," said Craney about his team's outlook for 2016. "The recruiting class we brought in last year is far exceeding their expectations as sophomores and they are ready to carry this program on their backs. We followed up that class with some much needed size and talent on the lines this year, as well as another group of talented skill position players who will bring some much needed depth to the line-up. 

"Last year I said before the season that it was the best football team we'd ever had, and I will say right now that this year we are even better. We are older, bigger and stronger and have remarkable talent across all position groups. We have a bunch of winners on this team, they don't know any better and that's all they want to do here."

            - Warren Craney, head football coach, York University Lions

Head Coach: Warren Craney 

- Number of seasons as head coach with team (including 2016): 7

- Number of seasons as head coach in CIS (including 2016): 7

- Career regular season record with team: 6-42

- Career regular season record in CIS: 6-42

- Career overall record with team (reg. season & playoffs only): 6-42

- Career overall record in CIS (reg. season & playoffs only): 6-42

OFFENCE

Number of returning starters: 9 

Key returning players: 

RB Jesse Amankwaa (Etobicoke, Ont.) won the OUA rookie of the year award last season, York's first recipient since 1996. He ranked second in the conference with 137 rushes and had 689 yards and four touchdowns. He was also named a member of the OUA all-rookie team. 

QB Brett Hunchak (Calgary) is the opening day starting quarterback as a sophomore following an impressive rookie debut in which he took over the starting job in Week 4. He finished his first season 80-of-143 (55.9%) for 952 yards and two touchdowns. 

REC Colton Hunchak (Calgary) appeared in all eight games as a rookie and finished with 32 catches for 355 yards. He showed in the season finale why the coaching staff is so high on him, catching 13 balls for 135 yards against nationally-ranked Queen's. 

OL Chris Kolankowski (Etobicoke, Ont.) enters his fifth season with the Lions and will anchor the offensive line. He was selected by his hometown Toronto Argonauts in the sixth round (49th overall) in the 2016 CFL Draft earlier this year.

Key recruits or transfers: 

RB Khaliel James (Toronto) joins an explosive backfield for the Lions. He won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2014 U19 world junior championships in Kuwait and also played for Team Ontario in the 2013 Canada Cup. He picked up more than 12,000 all-purpose yards and 67 touchdowns in high school and in 2014 was named the Windsor-Essex male athlete of the year. 

RB Kayden Johnson (Kerrobert, Sask.) is another running back now in the fold with the Lions. He represented Canda at back-to-back U19 International Bowls in 2014 and 2015 and played for Team Saskatchewan at the 2013 Canada Cup. He is also a track and field athlete, winning a silver medal in the decathlon at the Canadian junior championships and finishing fifth at the junior Pan American championships. 

OL Ben Phelps (Burlington, Ont.) comes to York from Assumption C.S.S.. He participated in the 2015 Ontario Prospect Challenge as a member of Team Halton-Peel's varsity squad.

Key losses: 

OL Jamal Campbell (Toronto), OL Jordyn Moore (Whitby, Ont.)

DEFENCE

Number of returning starters: 8

Key returning players: 

DB Rees Paterson (Sherwood Park, Alta.) finished his sophomore campaign with 21.5 tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and 10 pass break-ups. He is a former OUA all-rookie team member and was part of the Canadian team that won the country's first ever gold medal at the 2012 U19 world junior championships. 

DB Josh Small (Pickering, Ont.) has played in 30 games over four seasons at cornerback and safety, compiling 111.5 total tackles, four interceptions and 10 pass break-ups. He participated in the 2015 East West Bowl and last season had 21.5 tackles. 

LB Nikita Starchenko (Whitby, Ont.) has started 18 games at linebacker over the last three seasons, accumulating 83 tackles, and last year started seven games and finished third on the team with 39 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss. He participated in the 2016 East West Bowl.

Key recruits or transfers: 

DL Skye King (Calgary) was a lineman at the prestigious Notre Dame H.S., winning back-to-back provincial championships in 2013 and 2014. He played on the defensive line for Team Canada at the world junior championships this past summer, winning a gold medal with an upset win over the United States in the final. 

DL Rossini Sandjong-Djabome (Longueuil, Que.) comes to York from CEGEP Edouard-Montpetit, where he spent three seasons playing defensive end. He was part of the Canadian team that won the silver medal at the 2014 U19 world junior championships in Kuwait. 

LB Andrew Smith (Whitby, Ont.) spent one season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he led the team in tackles and was selected as an all-state and all-Southwest all-star at linebacker. While playing for Donald A. Wilson H.S., he earned the league MVP award in grade 11.

Key losses:

DE Hussein Hazime (Toronto), DB Scott Noivo (Montreal), DB Damone Williams (Mississauga, Ont.)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Key returning players: 

FB Mitchell Fraser (Newmarket, Ont.) earned the team's Andre Durie Special Teams Award for 2015. He picked up seven tackles and was a force in all special teams scenarios. 

K/P Nick Naylor (Abbotsford, B.C.) has been the team's starting punter and placekicker for two seasons. Last year he was 9-of-13 on field goal attempts and averaged 33.1 yards per kick on punts.

ey recruits or transfers: 

K/P Enzo Lariccia (Port Colborne, Ont.)

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