Sport

UBC's Nill sizes up new-look Huskies

Huskies’ linebacker Ben Whiting closes in on Alberta ball-carrier Ben Pasiuk during Friday’s home win.

Kayle Neis / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Blake Nill and Brian Towriss wrestled over X’s and O’s for a decade and a half, while generations of players came and went.

For the first time since Nill started coaching Canadian university football, he’s preparing for a University of Saskatchewan Huskies team that doesn’t include Towriss, whose 33-year tenure with the team ended this past off-season.

“I spoke to my players about this yesterday,” Nill — whose British Columbia Thunderbirds host the Huskies and new head coach Scott Flory on Saturday — said during a Tuesday conference call with reporters. “I said this is a team that’s so deep in tradition, and so deep in their particular football approach … don’t expect anything different under this new coaching staff. Of course, you’re going to have differences in systems and that, but it goes deeper. This is a team that’s still going to approach the game with integrity. They’re going to play the game with the physicality that’s required, the discipline that’s required, and the execution that’s required to be successful. Whether it’s coach Towriss or coach Flory, it’s the same Huskies culture. So yes — it’s a little different, but really, it’s not.”

Flory, an ex-Huskies player and long-time CFLer, stressed after his hiring that he’s not Towriss, and that it was time “to put my stamp on this program.”

He quickly revamped the coaching staff — adding new offensive and defensive co-ordinators in Marcus Crandell and Warren Muzika respectively, while bringing in several new assistants.

“There’s a fundamental way in which I believe the game of football should be played, and how you need to play in order to win championships,” Flory said this week. “I’ve been fortunate to be part of it at the collegiate level, as well as at the professional level. So have (many) of my coaches. There’s a whole lot of championship rings on the staff. What we want, and what we bring to it … there’s a  lot of commonality when you’re part of championship teams. We want to instil that in our players. And if that’s similar to BT (Towriss) and the previous staffs, then that’s kudos to the way things have been done, because I think there’s certain ways you need to go about things to win championships.”

So far, so good for the Huskies, who are 2-0 after beating Manitoba 44-23 and Alberta 43-17 — though they now face a difficult two weeks, with road games against nationally-ranked teams in B.C. and Calgary. The Thunderbirds lost 36-20 to Regina before rebounding this past Saturday with a 32-18 victory over Manitoba.

Nill, revamping on the fly, started five 18-year-olds on defence during the win over Manitoba. The unit is athletic and moves well, he says, but he does expect some growing pains — and with Huskies quarterback Kyle Siemens throwing nine touchdown passes (and no interceptions) through two games, Nill knows this is a yardstick game.

“I think it’s a good test; it’s a necessary evil for us to be playing the University of Saskatchewan at this time. We need to get hit in the mouth and see how we respond,” Nill said. 

“Saskatchewan, Calgary, never believe they’re going to lose,” he added. “They always believe they’re going to win. I remember as a Calgary coach, fighting that battle then (against the Huskies). It doesn’t matter what the scenario is; the culture in Sask. is that (they’re) going to win. They really believe that. I’m still trying to install that in my group. If we can match the intensity and the physicality this particular program’s going to bring to the field on Saturday, that’ll be a big point for us. If we don’t, we’re going to get our butts kicked like we did last year when we walked into Sask. (during a 40-10 loss).”

In this weekend’s other games, 2-0 Calgary visits 0-2 Manitoba, while Regina (1-1) hosts Alberta (0-2).

kemitchell@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kmitchsp

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