WOLFVILLE, N.S. - After an AUS championship season in 2017, the Axemen opened the 2018 campaign with a 2-3 record in the opening six weeks of the regular season but finished with three straight wins and third place in the final standings with a 5-3 record.
With an early exit in post-season play after a semi-final loss to the eventual AUS champions StFX last season, the Axemen hope to better last year's record with a strong core of returning players and some young talent from the good recruiting pool.
"We are looking forward to getting back on the field and seeing what kind of talent we have recruited and what our returning players have done in the off season. Our success or failure will be dependent on injuries and luck, like most years. One thing I can assure you is, we will be relentless," noted head coach Jeff Cummins.
Six players, who played in the U SPORTS East-West Bowl this past spring including Bailey Feltmate, Rory Kelly, Jayden White-Frayne, Dale Wright, Cordell Hastings and Hunter Guenard, will make an immediate impact by returning to the starting lineup this season.
Senior Dale Wright, who was named the 2017 AUS MVP after a 1000+ yard season, returns as a starting running back. Wright was named as an AUS All-Star last season for the second time in a row and was the country's third leading rusher for two consecutive seasons.
Hunter Guenard returns as a starting pivot for the Axemen in 2019. An AUS All-Star last season, Guenard led the AUS in passing yards and touchdowns and will be relied on to lead a somewhat veteran offensive unit.
Leading the receivers will be veteran Cordell Hastings, who is one of the fastest wide receivers in the conference. Hastings was an AUS All-Star last season, leading the AUS in touchdown receptions with five.
The offensive line lost three starters from last season including Drew Seldon, Nathan Heide and Jacob Creedon, but returning Axemen Shelton Williams, Oliver Grant and Alex Smith will anchor a young offensive line.
On the defensive side, the Axemen return a strong core, losing cornerback AUS All-Star and All-Canadian Garvin Cius and free safety Brandon Jennings to graduation.
Fifth year defensive lineman Thomas Grant returns for his final season after being drafted in the fourth round of the CFL draft this past spring. Grant was named the AUS Outstanding Lineman last season and was an AUS All-Star and U SPORTS All-Canadian. Grant will be joined by Anderson Recker who was named as an AUS All-Star last season. Recker was a member of the gold medal Junior National team of 2018.
2017 AUS Defensive Player of the Year and middle linebacker Bailey Feltmate returns for his fourth season. Feltmate was an AUS All-Star last season and a 2017 U SPORTS All-Canadian.
Two key returners to the defensive secondary are Jadin White-Frayne and Rory Kelly. Both are notorious "pick for six" players who will solidify a young crew in the defensive backfield.
The off-season has brought several top recruits to Acadia including local talent and son of football alumnus Trenton Simmonds. Jayden Simmonds, a graduate of Horton High School and from the Football North program in Ottawa, will bolster the running back position.
With shallow depth in the offensive line position, Cummins was hard at work recruiting several big men including Ethan Dunnett from Moncton H.S., Jamie Fortune from BCJF's Okanagan Sun and Brendan Jordahi from Orange Coast College in Fullerton, California.
Defensively, lineman Will Russell from Kennebecasis Valley High School in New Brunswick, defensive backs Manny Beals from Montreal's Vanier College (CEGEP) and Ewan MacKeen from Citadel High School in Halifax should compete for starting positions in the weeks to come.
"In general, we want to be relentless in everything we do. We want to be sound and very good on special teams this year. Offense and Defense need to gel, but our special teams need to be sound from day one. Special teams will be the carry-over from last year and I think we are going to be very good at," concluded Cummins.
After an exhibition loss to host Mount Allison last weekend, the Axemen will open the AUS regular season this Saturday, August 24 beginning at 3:00 p.m. against the visiting Bishop's Gaiters who were winless in 2018.