Nova Scotia

SMU football's remarkable rise from terrible to nation's Top 10

The Saint Mary's University football team went two straight seasons without winning a single game. Then it got a new coach.

'Players are being held to a much higher standard than previous years,' says fourth-year player

Saint Mary's University quarterback Kaleb Scott. (Nick Pearce)

It's been a long time since Saint Mary's University football has cracked the nation's Top 10 teams, but that's what happened this week when the latest Canadian university sports rankings were released.

The Huskies, unbeaten in four games to start their season, snagged the 10th spot.

"There was a time when Saint Mary's was always ranked, so this is where we should be," said Huskies coach James Colzie lll. "People shouldn't be surprised that we are now ranked because this is the standard that should be set."

James Colzie III has been head coach of the Huskies for 18 months. (CBC)

Colzie was named SMU coach 18 months ago.

Prior to his hiring, the Huskies had gone through two demoralizing seasons where they didn't win a game. On top of that, four SMU players were penalized for doping violations.

The football program had hit rock bottom.

"It's a completely different feeling this year compared to my first two years when we went 0-8, back to back," said fourth-year wide receiver Rick Lemoignan, an Edmonton native. "Everyone is way more accountable this year and players are being held to a much higher standard than previous years."

Lemoignan gives full credit for the team turnaround to Colzie.

"As soon as he came in last year, we started 6 a.m. workouts and everyone was just pushed back on their heels and the culture around the team shifted really fast," he said.

Saint Mary's University running back Johnny King. (Nick Pearce)

Colzie knows a thing or two about winning. As a college football player with Florida State he won an NCAA championship and the team only lost three games in four years.

As a collegiate coach he's had several winning seasons in leagues on both sides of the border, including a Vanier Cup championship with the UBC Thunderbirds in 2015. UBC won the title after a massive turnaround from the previous season, when they won only two of their eight games and missed the playoffs.

Now Colzie has brought his magic from the West Coast to the East Coast.

The Huskies started to show some improvement last season when they won two of eight league games, but for the third straight season they missed the playoffs.

The Saint Mary's Huskies in action against the Acadia Axemen. (Nick Pearce)

Fast forward to the midway point of the 2017 season and the Huskies are now the unbeaten top dogs in the Atlantic conference.

"I've been fortunate enough to be around a lot of successful coaches, a lot of successful people and successful teams," said Colzie. "I've used a lot of the tools I've learned from those people and I'm using it into what I am doing now."

Even though the season is only at the halfway mark, the Huskies have shown they are the favourites to take the Atlantic University Sport title. That's especially important this season because the Atlantic conference champion will host the Loney Bowl, the national semifinal, against the winner of the Ontario University Athletics conference.

This weekend, SMU will travel to Antigonish to play defending league champion St. Francis Xavier.

The X-Men will be looking for some revenge in front of a homecoming crowd after they lost their season opener to Saint Mary's 38-23 in Halifax.