In November, the University of Alberta Golden Bears football team came close to winning the 86th Hardy Cup. They lost to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in the last 52 seconds. Despite their loss, head coach Chris Morris said they are in a strong position for next season.
“I think [the athletes] sense we’re close to being even better than we were this year. And they’re excited to get to work here in the off-season,” Morris said.
Morris described the team, both athletes and staff, as “outstanding.” Some staff have been on-board for several years. The athletes have worked toward becoming a “competitive and strong team,” Morris said.
Morris has been the team’s head coach for the last 12 years. In 2023, he was named the U SPORTS Coach of the Year. He earned this title for leading the Golden Bears to their first winning season since 2005. He also brought the team to the Hardy Cup for the first time since 2010.
“We have lots of coaches here who give up a lot of their personal time to be associated with our team. I think it’s a great reflection of the hard work that those guys put in,” Morris said.
“This year, we were truly one of the best teams in the country,” Morris says
The team has not always been as strong as they are now, Morris said. Morris acknowledged the path that his athletes have taken to get to where they are now.
“A lot of these [athletes] came in when our program was ranked one of the worst in the country. They kept working and they’ve slowly built our credibility and reputation. This year, we were truly one of the best teams in the country,” Morris said.
As head coach, Morris wants to enable his players to grow as players and community members, following their core values of “growth, service, and excellence.”
“I think the kids this year — more so than probably any other year — really embodied those beliefs and core values,” Morris said.
Golden Bears football player Matthew Peterson won the 2023 Canada West Football Player of the Year. Peterson, a fourth-year running back, led with 1,128 rush yards in 2023. This placed him second-highest in the nation and the lead for Canada West. He averaged around 9.6 yards per carry. With this, he was able to aid the Golden Bears in their best season since 2005.
“The leadership [Peterson] provides here in the program was really second to none and very much appreciated by everybody here. It’s a well-deserved honour for him,” Morris said.
Even though the Golden Bears did not win the Hardy Cup, Morris and the team were “very happy” with the preparation for the 2023 season. For the 2024 season, they plan on building on the progress they’ve already made.
“We’ve got a good concrete culture built here now around the type of work, focus, and discipline that it takes to play at the highest level. We just keep going forward.”