Looking back on the 2012 Guelph Gryphons' rather impressive regular season, one game sticks out for Stu Lang.
"Myself and some of the other coaches think back to our pre-season game against the University of Saskatchewan," Lang, the head coach of the Gryphons, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "The western teams are big and strong so we took 80 people out [to Saskatchewan], coaches and players in total. It was a nice bonding experience and we went out and outplayed them (in a 26-21 win). That was a big confidence booster for us."
Even though in their regular-season opener the following week Guelph suffered a 50-9 loss at the hands of the defending Vanier Cup champions from McMaster, Lang feels that the win over the Huskies and the trip to the Prairies provided somewhat of an early turning point in what's been the team's most successful regular season in more than a decade.
With the post-season about to get underway Guelph finds itself in unfamiliar territory. The Gryphons' 7-1 record puts them in second place in the OUA and gifts them with a bye through the first round along with unbeaten Mac. It's also just the fifth time in the last 23 seasons that Guelph has finished with a record above .500.
It's the type of success Lang has been trying to build towards ever since he took over the program three years ago. He knows a little bit about winning having been part of the Edmonton Eskimos dynasty that captured five Grey Cup titles between 1975 and 1981.
"The culture [when I took over] was not an acceptance but sort of a feeling that we were an average football club that had success the odd year and even when they won the Vanier [Cup] they were 4-4, they weren't 8-0," he said. "So this year has been a big step forward in terms of developing that culture, confidence and character and hopefully it's not just this year. … We want to become part of that elite level of teams and have success not just one year, but every year."
In order to have long-term success, Lang understands that there needs to be a heavy importance put on recruitment, which is why he's played a big part in refurbishing and adding to the school's football facilities. Though he wouldn't discuss whether or not he has financially contributed, according to the team's website he helped in the building of the football team's High Performance Training Centre as well as adding artificial turf and a video display scoreboard to Alumni Stadium.
But above all else, it's maintaining success on the field that's going to help bring top young talent to the Gryphons.
"The new facilities can only last so long," Lang said. "The young men of today want to play for a winner, they want to be associated with a winner and they want to be associated with a winning program… We want to be a team again for example like Western that when they're out recruiting they can say 'Listen, in your four years here, at least one year you're going to be playing for the Yates.' That's a powerful recruiting statement, so that's something that we want to have, that 'Hey, you come to us and we're always fighting for the Yates.'"
For now, the focus is on the present rather than the future of the program though. The Gryphons are two wins away from capturing the school's first Yates Cup in 16 years and surely it's that type of statement that can pay huge dividends.
"I said to the guys last night that the season was great, we accomplished something that no other Guelph football team has done [a 7-1 record], but let's put that in a small little case and put that in the back of our minds," Lang said. "Let's try to achieve that number one goal on our list [now] which is to win the Yates."