Playing the role of bystanders for the first week of the OUA season, the U SPORTS ninth-ranked Gee-Gees football team is itching to get their 2019 season underway this weekend.
Following their first week bye, the team will take to the road for a Labour Day weekend matchup with the sixth-ranked McMaster Marauders in Hamilton on Sunday at 4 p.m.
After a strong 6-2 finish in the regular season last year, the Garnet and Grey earned second seed in the OUA playoffs. After losing a last-minute heartbreaker against Guelph in the OUA semi-finals, the team is now set to prove they deserve consideration amongst the conference and nation's best again this season.
"We have to go in there with the right mindset, and we can do it," said Gee-Gees head coach Jamie Barresi. "It's always important to start on the right foot and make sure that things are in the right place."
Last weekend, the Gee-Gees sat back and watched McMaster file a strong performance at Guelph, taking home a 25-10 win. Equipped with a familiar new head coach in Stefan Ptaszek, the Marauders are angling themselves to once again be the contenders they were when Ptaszek last roamed their sidelines.
While it can be a difficult task to appreciate a first week bye, the team made the best of their time preparing for McMaster.
"We had a really good week out here, the bye gave us a little more time to fine-tune some stuff, so we've taken full advantage of it," said quarterback Sawyer Buettner.
Buettner, entering his second year holding the reins of the Gee-Gees' offence, is looking forward to using an offseason of preparation and a familiarity with his teammates.
"We have weapons all over the field, there's great depth at receiver and running back," he said. "When you have weapons across the board, it makes it really fun for me to be out there throwing the football."
On the defensive side of the ball, a strong contingent of returnees and recruits has the group looking as daunting as ever.
The Gee-Gees led the nation in interceptions last year, and with outstanding talent at all levels, will look to rank near the top of the OUA and U SPORTS in multiple defensive statistics this season.
"A new season always bring new challenges, but we're meshing well," said fifth-year cornerback Cody Cranston, who returns for a final season after being drafted by the Montreal Alouettes in May.
Cranston, along with other key seniors across the defence, will be essential for the team's success in their season opener. Ensuring that the Gee-Gees offence has the opportunity to succeed will be key in toppling the Marauders.
While McMaster was a defensively focused team last season, they had significant success moving the football in week one, which is something the Gee-Gees will look to stop.
"Our mindset is to make an impact early," Cranston said. "Whenever you're on the road, you have to look to hit them in the mouth right away and set the tone for the game."
Kick-off from Ron Joyce Stadium is set for 4 p.m. on Sunday. The game will be streaming live on OUA.tv