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From Grey Cup champion to coach

Veteran receiver Sylvain Girard got his start with the Concordia Stingers
February 3, 2021
By Richard Burnett, BA 88

Sylvain Girard playing football, running with the ball Sylvain Girard was the top Canadian college player and the Montreal Alouettes’ first round selection — and fifth overall — in the 1999 CFL draft. | Photo: Alouettes de Montréal

Chicoutimi, Que. native Sylvain Girard, BSc (exercise science) 99, is a legendary CFL wide receiver and champion, yet his storied career began with the Concordia Stingers. Girard set a team record for most touchdowns in a season with 10, then set another record for most touchdowns in a career with 23 in four seasons.

Girard was the top Canadian college player and the Montreal Alouettes’ first round selection — and fifth overall — in the CFL college draft in April 1999, yet signed as a free agent with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. He attended their training camp before joining the Alouettes midway through the 1999 season.

During his eight-year CFL career, Girard caught 122 passes for 1,975 yards with 10 touchdowns in 103 CFL games, all with Montreal. He played in four Grey Cup games, winning one championship in 2002.

Today, as activities coordinator and football coach at Montreal’s Collège Sainte-Anne de Lachine, Girard passes on the life lessons he learned on and off the field at Concordia.

Why are sports important?

Aside from pure entertainment value, there is something about cheering on your favourite team, a sense of belonging to a group and a sense of sharing.

You played four seasons with the Stingers. How did that come about?

Head shot of Sylvain Girard, wearing his team hoodie. Concordia Stingers veteran receiver Sylvain Girard retired after eight seasons with the Montreal Alouettes and now coaches football at Collège Sainte-Anne de Lachine. | Photo: Collège Sainte-Anne de Lachine

I started playing very late, when I was 17 years old back home in Chicoutimi. I never really thought I would play university ball. I only played because I loved it. When it came time to choose a university, coaches started calling me and I got a call from Concordia.

I decided to visit and fell in love with the school and coaching staff. I didn’t speak English at the time but I felt really comfortable at Concordia and it became my first choice.

I played for the Stingers for four years. We had such a close-knit team, especially during my last year when we made it all the way to the Vanier Cup, when we played the Saskatchewan Huskies at Toronto’s Skydome. I have so many good memories.

Before joining the Montreal Alouettes, you signed with the Cleveland Browns.

I signed as a free agent with the Browns in 1999. I attended regular training camp but was released after their second preseason game. The NFL was an eye-opening experience. You realize how much money is involved and how they don't leave anything to chance.

Then you joined the ‘Als’.

“The NFL was an eye-opening experience,” says Girard, who signed with the Cleveland Browns in 1999.

Like playing university ball, at first I didn’t think about the pros. Then I had a good discussion with one of my coaches, Gerry McGrath. He made me realize I would likely get drafted. And I was drafted by Montreal in the first round. I still remember receiving the call back home with my parents in Chicoutimi. I was like, ‘Wow, what just happened?’ It was surreal.

What is it like winning a Grey Cup?

I still get chills remembering the Grey Cup parade in Montreal in 2002, then bringing the cup home to Chicoutimi. It was special for my parents as well. They had always followed my career and had come to watch me play in Montreal. It really was a dream come true.

You retired in 2007. How difficult a decision was that to make?

I struggled with it for a few weeks, but once I made the decision, I actually felt relief. Injuries were taking a toll on the way I was performing. I don't think I was ready to deal with another season of ups and downs. It also takes a toll on you mentally — when you can't go out there on a regular basis and play well.

How did your time at Concordia help shape you and your career?

My time at Concordia is a really big part of who I am. One thing I realized at Concordia is how important the people you meet during those formative years can be.

Caring is important for success and is sometimes underestimated. I am thankful for good people like Stingers coaches Gerry McGrath and Pat Sheahan [BSc 78, GrDip 81, MA 99], who helped me learn and fend for myself. I always knew there was someone there if I needed help.

This is also what I've been trying to emulate at Collège Sainte-Anne de Lachine. My athletes need to learn to do things for themselves but they know I’m in their corner. I always had that when I was at Concordia.

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