Making the cut
“Football’s finally here,” second-year quarterback Reid Quest said on the first day of training camp. “There’s a sense of anxiousness and excitement buzzing around our changing room right now.”
The 55 returning players and 40 rookies have two weeks to prove themselves at their position and earn a place in the starting lineup. Of the players selected to attend the camp, the coaches will keep 85. But not all of them will dress for games, and even fewer will take to the field.
“Everything’s on the line,” says Head Coach Gerry McGrath. “Everyone has something to gain or something to lose. They’re being judged on their performance over the next two weeks.”
McGrath admits it’s tough telling some of the recruits that they’re not ready, and that they won’t be able to play this season. “It’s probably the worst part of my job,” he says. “But the pyramid gets tight at the top. There’s a lot of broken hearts, broken dreams.”
Of course, those who do make the cut will have come prepared. New recruit Mikael Charland, who began his classes at Concordia last January after being recruited from the Cégep de l’Outaouais, says he spent this summer working out regularly with a personal trainer. “It costs money but it’s worth it,” he says, adding that he has dropped 10 pounds and feels he is in far better shape than he was when he began training with the Stingers last spring. “I got leaner, faster, and stronger.”
Interviewed on the first day of camp, Charland’s manner is upbeat. If he’s nervous about the next two weeks, he’s certainly not showing it. He speaks confidently about his experience so far at Concordia. “I feel good about being here,” he says. “It feels like home, like I felt with my last team.”
Mitchell Brown, a recruit from St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School in Russell near Ottawa, says he also immediately felt at home when he visited Concordia with recruiter Phil Roberts. “Coming here, it just felt like all the people were really nice to me,” he says. “Phil was really good. He drove me up and I got to meet all the coaches first-hand. It felt like a family here.”
At 18, Brown is two years younger than Charland and displays less of the confident swagger shown by his new teammate. Even so, Brown says he’s more pumped than he is nervous about training camp and playing at the university level. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be fun,” he says. “I think it’s a whole new level of commitment.”
Max Caron, Concordia’s most valuable defensive player last season and winner of the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding defensive player in Canadian Interuniversity Sport football, is beginning his third season with the Stingers.
Caron recalled the first day of his first Concordia training camp. “I remember being really nervous,” he says. “It’s the first day when everyone’s all together in the same room.”
He says it’s important for returning players to make the new recruits feel relaxed and welcome, so they can focus on the task of making the team. For this reason, he and Quest spent much of the first morning of training camp introducing themselves to the new recruits and putting them at ease.
“They’re some impressive guys,” Quest said afterward. “They’re young but they’ll be pushing for a starting job. Everyone knows their position isn’t safe, and the best player will play.”
The quarterback says that if his team hopes to have a shot at the Vanier Cup, it needs to make some improvements, particularly in offence. “There were games when we showed glimpses of being great, and there were times when we weren’t so great. We need to play at the same tempo, at a high pace all year. We’ve got the ammo, the firepower; I believe we can put up a lot of points every game and help our defence out.”
Coach McGrath says his recruiting staff has done a lot to address the offensive issues. “I think we’ve fulfilled our needs in recruiting. Our offensive line will be much improved,” he says. One notable addition is Ontarian Roman Grozman, an offensive tackles who was selected to play for Team World U19 against the United States in 2011 in a game that features the world's best football players under 19 years of age. “He had some offers from big NCAA schools but we got him,” McGrath says. “He should have an immediate impact.”
The fact that Quest now has a year of university football under his belt will also make a big difference, McGrath says. “Reid became our starting quarterback last year and it was his first year at this level, so he had some struggles. But he’s had a great spring camp, and I think he’s going to have a great year.”
The first game of the season is an exhibition game against the University of Toronto on Friday, August 24. For the new and returning players who take to the field in Stingers jerseys it will signal the culmination of a lot of hard work, and the beginning of another entirely more challenging and exciting chapter in their athletic careers.
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