By Michael Piasetzki, West Island Chronicle

The Vanier College football Cheetahs have assembled a powerhouse in the CEGEP AAA league this season, and a slew of West Island players have been leading them.

Chronicle, Peter McCabe

DOLLARD DES Ormeaux's Jabari Arthur, who learned his football in the North Shore program, hopes to lead the Cheetahs to a Bol d'Or. Quarterback Jabari Arthur, running back Andre James, wide receiver Blake Butler and offensive lineman Jeremy Simpson - who has been guaranteed a scholarship at Boston College for next year - have all played big parts in Vanier's success this season.

As have wide receiver Kwame Kyermmeh, defensive tackle Steve Collette, defensive halfback Barry Stewart and defensive back Bruno Ly. Just to throw a little variety into the mix, though, the Cheetahs' roster also boasts one Lakeshore Cougar, linebacker Georges Papanagiotou.

Meanwhile, Cheetahs head coach Ray Gagnon has filled three positions on his coaching staff this year with former North Shore staffers.

His linebacker coach is former Mustangs head coach Andy Nower, while former Mustangs offensive-co-ordinator and quarterback coach Wes Burgess is his offensive-co-ordinator. Former North Shore Broncos head coach Grant Allan is his defensive-co-ordinator.

The Cheetahs seem like solid contenders to go a long way this season, despite being forced to forfeit their first four wins because of an administrative error in which an academically ineligible player participated in four of the team's first five games.

So, instead of being a perfect 7-0, they presently sit at 3-4 after defeating the Beauce-Appalaches Condors 25-14, Saturday afternoon at home.

Winning a Bol d'Or would suit Burgess and Nower just fine. Both tasted a bitter pill of defeat in 1998, after watching their Mustangs drop the provincial final. That painful memory still remains vivid in their minds, and is something Burgess in particular, said he never wants to go through again.

"I remember losing that game in 1998 at Hébert Stadium in St. Léonard to the Greenfield Park Packers," he said. "It hurt. It was a very emotional defeat."

Burgess admitted if the Cheetahs were to be successful for the remainder of the season, they would need a huge contribution from Arthur.

"He's ready to take us to that level, though," said Burgess. "He's matured into a man. He's so coachable, and our offence rallies around him. He's a natural-born leader."

At six-foot-four, 200-pounds, Arthur, a Dollard-des-Ormeaux resident, has grown from a gangly, tall quarterback with the Mustangs, into a solid signal caller with loads of potential at Vanier. Local football observers have begun to draw comparisons between him and some of the better quarterbacks to come out of Canadian colleges in the past. And because of that, he has started to attract the attention of recruiters from American universities.

"I will not say which American universities I have spoken with," said Arthur. "I am superstitious about things like that."

Arthur said last year was a disappointing season for both him and the Cheetahs, but the team is much more focused this year. He also said it's nice having familiar West Island faces like Butler, James and Kyermmeh to look at in the huddle and to rely on in game action.

"We've played together for a while," he said. "Because of that, I don't have to make too much of an adjustment when I look for them downfield."