Golden Hawks soar into 2016 season as Yates Cup contender

Golden Hawks soar into 2016 season as Yates Cup contender

2015 regular season record: 4-4

2015 regular season standings: 6th in OUA

2015 playoff record: 1-1

2015 playoff finish: Lost 32-18 to Western in the conference semifinals

Since head coach Michael Faulds' arrival three years ago, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks have been a team on the rise. Now, after reaching the OUA semifinals last season and knocking off the defending Yates Cup champions in the process, the Hawks have arrived and have to be considered among the best teams in the province heading into the 2016 season. 

Despite their ultimate success last season, the 2015 campaign got off to a rocky start as Laurier lost three of their first four games, including a shocking loss on Homecoming to previously winless Windsor. 

That result acted as a wakeup call for the purple and gold as the Hawks strung together four impressive performances to close out the season, including big wins over Waterloo, Ottawa and Queen's which sent them to the playoffs. 

Matching up against the defending Ontario champions, the McMaster Marauders in the quarter-finals, the upstart Hawks rode the legs of Dillon Campbell all the way to a 29-15 victory for their first playoff win since 2010. While Laurier ultimately lost to the Western Mustangs in the conference semifinals, the experience gained from the playoff run was invaluable as the Hawks finished the year as one of the top four teams in the OUA. 

This season, while there are some question marks for the purple and gold due to graduation of some excellent players, Coach Faulds will enjoy the fruits of his recruiting labour from the last three years this season as close to half the roster has at least one season of experience under their belt.

Quote from head coach: 

"This is the best team we've had in my four years here at Laurier. Although we have had some great players graduate, the 12 month process we have our players go through ensures that the next group of players step up and carry the torch even further. That all being said, it is a long season and there will be many ups and downs, but our staff and players are a confident group and believe that we will contend."

Head Coach: Michael Faulds 

- Number of seasons as head coach with team (including 2016): 4

- Number of seasons as head coach in CIS (including 2016): 4

- Career regular season record with team: 9-15

- Career regular season record in CIS: 9-15

- Career overall record with team (reg. season & playoffs only): 10-17

- Career overall record in CIS (reg. season & playoffs only): 10-17


OFFENCE

Number of returning starters: 5 

Key returning players: 

REC Kurleigh Gittens Jr. returns for his second season with the Golden Hawks. An OUA Second Team All-Star and an OUA All-Rookie in 2015, the native of Ottawa, led the Hawks in both receptions (40) and receiving yards (461) last season while also being a danger in the return game. Gittens Jr. finished last year averaging 35.3 yards per kickoff return, including a 101-yard return for a touchdown. 

REC Marcus Arkarakas enters his fourth year with the purple and gold. Last season, the native of Richmond Hill, Ont., had 17 catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns, good for fourth on the team in both categories. 

OL Chris Reddy heads into his fourth year at Laurier. A hometown player from Kitchener, Ont., the 6-2, 275 pound lineman has only missed two games in his career at Laurier, both in his rookie season. His steadying presence on the line has been a key factor in the success of the Hawks' run game over the past three years. 

RB Eric Guiltinan returns for a fifth and final season with the Hawks. Originally from London, Ont., Guiltinan is coming off his best statistical season at Laurier as he had 45 carries for 259 yards and scored a career-high three touchdowns.

Key recruits or transfers: 

QB Tristan Arndt from A.B. Lucas SS (London, Ont)

QB Jacob Spinella from Mother Theresa HS (Ottawa) 

REC Joshua Perez from Lorne Park SS (Mississauga, Ont.) 

REC Ente Eguavoen from Holy Trinity CSS (Oakville, Ont.)

Key losses: 

RB Dillon Campbell 

QB Eric Morelli 

QB James Fracas 

REC Greg Nyhof 

REC Anthony Pizzuti 

OL Michael Malanda

DEFENCE

Number of returning starters: 8

Key returning players: 

DL Kwaku Boateng enters his fourth year at Laurier. A 2016 East West Bowl participant, the native of Milton, Ont., will be on the eyes of CFL scouts this season after winning the OUA J.P. Metras Award as the top lineman in the conference last season. The 2015 CIS Second Team All-Canadian recorded 18 tackles a year ago, along with four sacks. With 14 career sacks, Boateng is fourth on Laurier's all-time sacks list. 

DB Godfrey Onyeka will be playing his third year with the Golden Hawks in 2016. A CIS First Team All-Canadian last season, the native of Brampton, Ont., posted a career-best 29.5 tackles to go along with two knockdowns, one sack and one interception. 

LB Nakas Onyeka heads into his fourth season with the purple and gold. Originally from Brampton, Ont., Onyeka competed in the 2016 East West Bowl and will be on the eyes of CFL scouts this year after being named an OUA Second Team All-Star last season. Onyeka finished last year tied for fifth in the OUA in total tackles with 48, a new career-high, while adding two sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. 

LB Brandon Calver also will be in his fourth year with Laurier in 2016. The native of London, Ont., was also a participant at the 2016 East West Bowl, putting him on the radar for CFL teams ahead of next year's draft. The durable 6-3, 215 pound linebacker has not missed a game with the Golden Hawks in his career and last season marked the third straight year he's recorded at least 30 tackles in a season.

Key recruits or transfers: 

DB Mitchell Choma-Phillips from St. Thomas More CSS (Hamilton) 

DL Alfred Green from Ajax HS (Ajax, Ont.)

Key losses:

DL Asante Mizan 

DB Will Pitt-Doe 

DB Ben Millar 

DB Austin Reusch 

LB Anthony Petrucci

SPECIAL TEAMS

Key returning players: 

K/P Nathan Mesher heads into his second year of eligibility with the Golden Hawks. The Kitchener, Ont., native led the OUA in field goals a year ago with 17 as he converted on 77 percent of his opportunities. He finished the year with 79 points, fifth most in the OUA, and was sixth in the conference in average punting at 35.6 yards per punt.

Key losses: 

RET Will Pitt-Doe

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