TORONTO - Building a team from the ground up is a unique opportunity, and Carleton Ravens head coach Steve Sumarah is enjoying every second of the experience.
The school will be back playing in the OUA in 2013, returning to Canadian university football after the program was cut following the 1998 season due to poor performances and a plan by Carleton's athletic department to invest money in other sports.
With seven full-time coaches on board and a roster that is beginning to take shape, excitement in Ottawa for the Ravens' rebirth is building.
"The joys of starting a program are that you get your hands in everything," Sumarah said while in Toronto for last month's Vanier Cup. "It's been an incredible experience for me to be on the ground level for those things.
"It's overwhelming how excited people are to have the program back."
Sumarah got the job with Carleton in January after he was fired by the Saint Mary's Huskies following six years at the helm. His tenure at the Halifax university included four straight AUS titles, a trip to the 2007 Vanier Cup and a coach of the year award in 2009.
Sumarah was also the offensive co-ordinator at SMU from 1998 to 2005, helping the team to six consecutive AUS titles, four Vanier Cup berths and two national championships.
But Carleton's coaching pedigree doesn't end with Sumarah, who hired former Ottawa Gee-Gees head coach Jean-Philippe Asselin to be his offensive co-ordinator.
"Starting new, there are no things that have already been in place that you're fighting against," Sumarah said. "Now it's like 'Well if we can make it happen then let's do it."
Sumarah says team expenses, including coaches' salaries, are being funded through donations. The hope is the system will help the program thrive much the same way Laval has become the dominant team in CIS football through massive sponsorship dollars.
"There's a lot of successful programs in the CIS that I've looked at," Sumarah said. "But I also looked back at my own experiences, like what we did well and what we need to improve on. Starting from ground zero allows you to do a bunch of different things by taking the best from everybody."
Apart from the coaching staff, highly-touted players like receiver Nate Behar have committed to the Ravens, while former Saint Mary's quarterback Jesse Mills has followed his coach to the nation's capital.
"Nate's probably one of the top-5 (high school) players in Ontario," Sumarah said. "To be able to have a guy like that believe in what we're doing right out of the gate is exciting and I think what it has done is have other guys say 'Nate's there for a reason and we want to know more and learn more.'"
Carleton's return to the gridiron, which is sure to rekindle the school's rivalry with the Gee-Gees in the annual Panda Game, is just part of the sport's rebirth in Ottawa. A CFL team is slated to return as early as 2014 after Lansdowne Park is redeveloped.
"The whole Ottawa community, in terms of football, is exploding," Sumarah said. "Our role as a new university team and eventually a CFL team is to continue to develop the grassroots."
Sumarah is realistic about the team's prospects out off the gate, adding that recruiting will be the key to getting Carleton to a Vanier Cup someday.
"The programs that continue to have success have done it through recruiting and development and if we can do those two things I think we have a chance like everybody else," he said. "I don't think there's anything you can do in the coaching field that's better than taking a reborn program and get it to that level."