A double helping of the Battle of Waterloo, a condensed six-game schedule and two local teams hungry for a championship will make for a very competitive OUA football season in Waterloo Region.
"There's lots of excitement, I would say more so than any other year," said Laurier Golden Hawks head coach Michael Faulds.
Their team is being led by a number of vets, including Connor Carusello, who goes into his third year of eligibility (and fifth year at the school).
He passed for 2,024 yards in 2019, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions to help the team to a 4-4 record but just missed the playoffs.
"(He)'s had an amazing training camp and an amazing week of prep," Faulds said, "He's really learned our new offensive system under new Offensive Coordinator coach Todd Galloway, and he's really come into his own. He's also got so many weapons to throw the ball to."
On defense, Faulds highlighted veterans like defensive back and Kitchener native Will Amoah, along with linebacker and first-team OUA all-star Tommy Bringi.
"We've got a great combination of those veterans, and many others, along with two recruiting classes that have quite a bit of talent in them as well," he said.
Needless to say, it's a confident bunch at Laurier.
"Internally, we have high expectations, but we also have an understanding that we have to take it one week at a time," Faulds said, adding there's a bit of a different identity, pointing to Quebec powerhouses Laval and Montreal losing last weekend.
He also said with the six-game regular season schedule instead of eight, it makes every game much more important.
Both he and Waterloo Warriors coach Chris Bertoia aren't looking past their Week 1 opponents, but both couldn't help expressing excitement to have two Battle of Waterloo games.
"Both games are going to be exciting," Faulds said, "I think it's good for the region and for football in this city to really come back with two of those rivalry games."
"And who knows, if both teams happen to make the playoffs, there can even be a third rematch."
Bertoia said if you want to see some entertaining football, those two games in particular will be must-watches.
For the Warriors, the coach admits the nerves are setting in, noting there's been some ups and downs since their OUA semi-final loss in 2019, but is excited for the team to get back on the field.
It's going to be really competitive with the split in conferences too.
The OUA has been separated into West and East to minimize travel between regions.
The West features both Laurier and Waterloo, along with both 2019 Yates Cup finalists in Western and McMaster, Guelph and Windsor.
"The West Conference is really difficult," Bertoia said, "Every game counts, that's for certain and you have to play everybody anyway."
"Our schedule is pretty difficult, and obviously playing Laurier twice isn't a small task at all. Those games over the last couple of years have been very competitive, and we don't expect any different (this year)."
Waterloo is also being led by a veteran crew --- 20 players are either in their fifth or sixth year --- along with about 40 new faces with the two recruiting classes.
Bertoia said there are many variables at play, including staying healthy but the goal is to win a championship.
"We want to win the Yates Cup and beyond," he said, "That's what our sights are set on."
Leading the way is quarterback Tre Ford, who comes into the year the highest rated QB by the CFL Scouting Bureau going into the 2022 draft.
"His abilities on the football field speak for themselves, but the biggest thing over the last 18-20 months is I've seen a maturity level in Tre grow," Bertoia said, "And his leadership skills have gone through the roof, and it's been a very positive impact on our team."
Bertoia said the individual accolades are nothing new for Ford, a previous OUA MVP --- and front runner in some circles to win the award again in 2021.
Tre and brother, Warriors defensive back Tyrell Ford --- ranked 12th by the CFL Scouting Bureau --- both deferred their draft year to come back to Waterloo.
Bertoia said part of that was to finish what they started.
"Ultimately, this is a team game and the individual accolades will come from team success. Tre knows that, Tyrell knows that," he said.
"Those guys are hungry competitors, and they want to win. They want to be champions. They've been champions in everything they've done, at every level except for this level right now."
Waterloo will look to start on the right foot at home Saturday evening at 6:00 p.m., when Windsor heads to Warrior Field.
Laurier welcomes York to University Stadium for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff.
The first edition of the Battle of Waterloo is Week 2 of the season, a 1:00 p.m. start on Saturday, September 25 during Laurier Homecoming weekend.