WOLFVILLE – With a 15-4 win in exhibition play versus St. Francis Xavier last weekend, Acadia University’s Axemen have taken the first step in defending their 2017 AUS championship.
And on top of this, Acadia football head coach Jeff Cummins added his fifth conference championship season in 15 seasons with an overtime win against Saint Mary’s Huskies in November.
Cummings says the only pressure – despite each championship being followed with a second-place finish each year since he became Acadia’s head coach – is to continue playing fundamental football and competing every day.
“While we have a young group in certain areas, we have some experienced players who know what needs to be done to succeed and we expect them to lead. We’ll have some growing pains but staying healthy will be key like most years,” he said.
Posting a 6-2 record and finishing first in the AUS conference last season, both sides of the ball had strong personal contributions. Third year linebacker Bailey Feltmate was named AUS Defensive MVP and second team All-Canadian, while running back Dale Wright was named AUS Offensive MVP and first team conference all-star. Cornerback Jadin White-Frayne led U SPORTS with six interceptions and was named a first team AUS all-star. All three will return for their senior year.
Heading into the 2018 season, the Axemen will look to many familiar faces. With the graduation of senior Cody Cluett, Hunter Guenard will step into the starting quarterback role with a strong supporting cast in Wright at tailback, and junior receiver Cordell Hastings who posted 603 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns last season.
The Axemen return eight offensive starters from last season. Offensive threats also include second-year wide receiver Glodin Mulali, who recently played in the IFAF U19 World Football Championship where Canada won gold over host Mexico.
Cummins hopes Mulali will have a banner season, replacing receiver Eugene McMinns.
“Mulali showed his skills against the best that the world had to offer at the U19 World Championship this summer and last season he had a great second half, so we anticipate he will be an asset in our offense this season,” said Cummins.
On the defensive side of the ball, Acadia will return nine starters including cornerback Garvin Cius and Jadin-White. Cius enters his fourth season and will strive for another strong year, with a knack for locking down receivers and making special tackles.
Fifth year free safety Brandon Jennings returns to anchor the secondary. A second team U SPORTS All-Canadian in 2016 after leading the nation in interceptions, Jennings will look to end his careeer at Acadia on a high note.
Linebacker Bailey Feltmate returns for his third year and will highlight the defensive front seven for the Axemen. Named AUS Defensive MVP in 2017, he will aim to continue his high level of play into 2018 and will be leaned on as a team leader for the Axemen.
Up front on the defense will also be Horton High School product Adam Melanson, who now wears a coaching hat. Melanson, who graduated this spring, will look to a young defensive line to step up to the call. With the loss of three key defensive linemen including Melanson, Ben Wallace and Gab Bagnell, the line will be young and anxious.
New faces this year who Cummins expects to contribute include defensive back Riley Gabriel from Truro’s CEC High School. Gabriel was a Team Canada U18 team member and also the NSSAFF Division 1 Most Valuable Player.
Linebacker transfer Evan Holmes from the University of Ottawa’s Gee Gees is also expected to add to a quality linebacking core. Holmes is a Wolfville native and will be eligible to play by mid-October.
On the offensive side of the ball, Bedford, N.S. native Ben Smith from Charles P. Allen High School was the team’s MVP and league MVP, while Kamloops Broncos’ Tristan Murray will bolster the offensive line.
The Axemen head to Antigonish this Friday to take on the St. FX X-Men in their season opener. The X-Men are 0-1 after a loss last weekend against Saint Mary’s. The Axemen will soon be on the road again versus Bishop’s on September 8, and will host the Mount Allison Mounties on Sept. 15 at 2:00 p.m. in their season home opener.
“This time of year is always exciting and we’re ready to get going onto another season of Acadia Axemen football. Winning the Loney Bowl in 2017 puts a big target on our backs, and we’re ready for the rest of the AUS to give us their best. We want to continue to improve throughout the season and build towards November when we hope to be playing our best football,” said Cummins.