The toughest job in CIS?
It's a new era in black and gold, though you may not know it after a 78-7 loss to Guelph in the season opener.
Chris Bertoia is the first-year head coach of the Waterloo Warriors and he's blessed with a couple of character traits that will come in handy as he tries to rebuild a program that, to be kind, is struggling.
Bertoia is a man who can disarm you with a smile. He's a person who oozes positivity, gushing about what lies ahead for a football program that hasn't been very successful since he was an offensive lineman on the Warrior teams that won two Yates Cups in the late 90's.
He's also focused. He's going to have to be as the job ahead of him is massive, at least to someone on the outside. The coach's positive nature leads one to believe that the task isn't as impossible as it would appear.
"Our kids played for 60 minutes (on Sunday)," Bertoia told 'In The Huddle'. "If you watched film you couldn't tell the first play of the game from the last one."
A small victory to be sure, but it's the kind of thing that the coach can build upon moving forward with his team and with the program. That's something that may not be easy to do if the losses continue to pile up.
That said, the coach is optimistic after receiving positive feedback from administration and alumni as the rebuild began in the off-season.
"We have to make people who may be the biggest contributors buy in," said Bertoia. "We want to get everybody involved so they're a part of the change."
It would be easy for those thinking about getting more invested in the program to back away after seeing a score like the one posted on Sunday. But the former o-lineman approaches the off-field portion of the job with the same vigour he brought to the field every week as a player; he gets in full attack mode.
"We need to keep 'em on board," the coach said of the donors. "The brass tacks are that we're asking them to buy in. We want them to be a part of the change. Being blunt, I tell them if you don't help, things won't change."
The job will be made easier because the administration, led by new Director of Athletics Roly Webster, is football friendly. The powers that be want to see the program return to its glory days of a decade and a half ago. The number of scholarships has doubled and the school has agreed to a doubling program in terms of donations.
It's a vitally important part of the rebuild, as is acquiring the talent to compete with the conference's elite programs. Using Sunday's score as 'Exhibit A', there remains a lot of work to be done.
That doesn't dissuade Bertoia's optimism about luring the country's top recruits to Waterloo.
"The academics sell themselves," explained the coach, pointing out that Waterloo is more than just an engineering school. "Twenty-two percent of our students are in business programs."
It's getting that word out that will help the Warriors recruit, that and a greater opportunity to play. Currently, the Warriors linebacking corps and starting running backs are dominated by fourth and fifth-year players, giving younger players a chance to get on the field sooner rather than later.
"My message to recruits is 'seize the opportunity'," said Bertoia. "You can go and hop on the bandwagon (of a contending program) or you can come here and build the bandwagon."
Bertoia knows what a winning program looks like. He won a pair of Yates Cups at Waterloo, captaining one of those teams. He's returned to the school after his latest stop, a half-dozen years at Western as the Mustangs' offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator.
He knows what it takes to win and what it will take to get there. His dedication was on full display as he spoke with 'In The Huddle' from his office on Tuesday night just before midnight. He was watching game film, looking for any edge to help his club get a little bit better against Carleton this week.
At times it will seem like he's trying to push a glacier with a straw, but as long as the end result is getting closer, Bertoia, the administration, the alumni and the players will continue down the road to respectability.
The Gryphons rolled up over 700 yards in offence in their dismantling of the Warriors but Waterloo actually won the time of possession. Johnny Augustine rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns, while Jacob Scarfone caught eight passes for 201 yards and a pair of TDs
Waterloo's 78-7 loss was bad, but the rout was expected. Windsor's 76-7 loss to Western was much more shocking. The Mustangs led 62-0 after three quarters before the Lancers finally scored. Like the Warriors, the Lancers won the time of possession. Will Finch threw a pair of TD passes, but even more importantly he wasn't intercepted. The Mustangs had nine different players credited with at least one carry and averaged over 12-yards per rush. Western intercepted four passes and recovered a pair of fumbles
While those two games lacked drama, the one in Kingston, Ont. certainly didn't. Queen's hosted Carleton in a game that may have huge playoff implications by season's end. In a very sloppy, but highly entertaining contest, the hometown Gaels tightened up defensively in the second half and held on for a 34-24 win over the Ravens. Four of the conference's top offensive players lived up to expectations. Jesse Andrews of Queen's rushed for 177 yards, saving his best runs for the game's key moments. The Ravens' Jahvari Bennett was consistent all day, finishing with 144 yards rushing and 48 more receiving. Receivers Doug Corby of the Gaels and Nate Behar of Carleton were also on their game. Corby had nine catches for 137 yards and a pair of majors, while Behar's 105 yards in receptions were highlighted by a 74-yard TD. Carleton's punter Michael Domagala and the coverage team were spectacular in the second half. The Ravens thought they tied the game in the fourth quarter when they returned a fumble for a touchdown, but were called for being offside on the play
The Varsity Blues gave McMaster a scare before the favourites prevailed 55-33. Toronto led 26-24 at halftime, but fumbled the kickoff to start the third quarter. The Marauders recovered and then, helped by a roughing the passer penalty, scored a touchdown to take the lead and never looked back. Dan Vandervoort was virtually unstoppable, hauling in 10 passes for 168 yards and four touchdowns. The Blues moved the ball well as Simon Nassar passed for 361 yards, while Divante Smith rushed for 112 more, along with three majors
Eric Morelli made his debut as a starting quarterback, filling in for an injured James Fracas, as Laurier beat York 38-21. Morelli threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another. Defending CIS rushing champ Dillon Campbell was back in fine form, piling up 116 yards. Nathaniel Pinto had a 108-yard receiving afternoon for the Lions. Both teams amassed over 400 yards in total offence.
Mike Hogan is a host on TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto, providing play-by-play commentary for the station's live coverage of the Toronto Argonauts. Hogan is also a long-time member of the CIS Football Top 10 Committee and also serves as the Vice-President of the Football Reporters of Canada.