November 21, 2012
Rouge et Or has great allure
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Ask about how the Laval Rouge et Or manage to stay at the top of the heap year after year in university football play and you’ll get a lot of answers.
Those answers will range from money to coaching to scouting to the insane atmosphere that is football in Quebec City. It’s a professional football atmosphere minus the salaries.
But there is one thing that is often left out when people talk about how a dynasty is built. It’s something called the lure. It’s the lure of the program, the lure of the atmosphere the lure that somehow always draws most of the best players, especially French-Canadian players, back to Laval to play.
Make no mistake about this, Laval is a dynasty, perhaps the greatest dynasty in Canadian university football history.
Since their inception as a program in 1996, Laval has been to seven Vanier Cup finals, winning six of them. When the Rouge et Or take on the McMaster Marauders Friday in Toronto for the Vanier Cup, they will have a chance to break the record for Vanier Cup wins. They are tied at six with Western University.
Every year, it seems the lure to play and win always calls to players who might otherwise decide to go elsewhere, whether it is professional football or out into the real world.
Laval had a least two players they expected to lose return to them this year. These aren’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill jersey fillers.
Linebacker Frederic Plesius was drafted 10th overall in the CFL draft by the Hamilton Ticats. He attended a Philadelphia Eagles spring camp. In the end, he made the Ticats wait so he could return to school get his degree and get another crack at a Vanier Cup.
“I told coach almost right away I wanted to come back,” Plesius said. “I wanted to finish school and I wanted to win one more Vanier for the school.”
Arnaud Gascon-Nadon is the Ticats’ 17th pick in the draft. He is the only two-time winner of the J.P. Metras trophy as university football’s best down lineman. Three years ago, he went to Rice but came back to Laval. Last year he was supposed to head out to play professionally and opted to come back to Laval.
The lure is strong.
Many may scoff when players talk about a program being like family. But if you listen to Gascon-Nadon talk, home and family is Laval.
“It was the best decision I made in my life going to Laval and so was coming back this year,” he said. “It was best years of my life. I came back because I just didn’t have enough. Two years was just too short for me, especially losing that last game was too bittersweet for me. I wanted more time with my team.”
“That game” has become known in university football circles as The Game. It was the McMaster Marauders’ 41-38 double overtime win over Laval in the Vanier Cup in Vancouver last year.
He doesn’t know what would have happened if Laval had won, but he knew hours after the loss that he was coming back.
Many were surprised that he was going to return but it made big news in Quebec where Gascon-Nadon and his family are well known. Arnaud’s parents Guy Nadon and Nathalie Gascon are well-known actors.
“I really thought this year was beneficial for me,” he said. “I look at myself on tape and I know I’m a lot better player than I was before. It was important for me to improve as a player and a person.”
But if it was only about improving, he could have done that as a pro. What he might not have gotten as a pro is the feeling he gets while playing at Laval. It’s why it is so difficult to out-recruit Laval for top French-Canadian players.
Gascon-Nadon played his first year at Rice after being redshirted and returned to Laval. He played the final few games in 2010 on one leg, undergoing ACL surgery after the season was over.
“I like this program. It’s family to me,” Gascon-Nadon said. “One thing for sure, Laval is a great program, great tradition and two years of knowing these people was not enough. I know now why players stay three, four, five years if they have a chance at Laval. It’s been the best years of my life and no one can take that away from me.”
MAC’S PTASZEK COACH OF YEAR
The kudos just keep on coming for the McMaster university football program.
After dominating the CIS all-Canadian awards, Marauders’ head coach Stefan Ptaszek was named CIS coach of the year Wednesday.
Ptaszek joins Greg Marshall in 2000 and Bernie Custis in 1982 as the only other McMaster head coaches to win the Frank Tindall Trophy.
Ptaszek took over from Marshall in 2005 and is in his seventh year as head coach of the Marauders. He led the Marauders to an 8-0 regular-season record this year giving them a chance Friday to win their second Vanier Cup in succession. The Marauders won their first national title last year in Vancouver.
His club is on a 21-game unbeaten streak, a CIS record.
The Marauders have never missed the playoffs with Ptaszek coaching.
Ptaszek was a three-time all-Canadian receiver with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, winning a Vanier Cup there. He played in the CFL for four years before coaching special teams at UBC. He returned as offensive co-ordinator for the Golden Hawks in 2003 and helped them win the 2005 Vanier Cup before taking over at McMaster.
He has a 51-19 (.729) record since taking over the program, including a 42-14 (.750) mark in league play and 9-5 (.643) in the playoffs.
Also honoured was Zach Androschuk from the University of Guelph. He received the Russ Jackson Award recognizing excellence in football, academics and citizenship.
APPEARANCES BY MCMASTER AND LAVAL IN VANIER CUP
2011-McMaster 41, Laval 38 2OT, Vancouver
2010-Laval 29, Calgary 2, Quebec City
2008-Laval 44, Western 21, Hamilton
2006-Laval 13, Saskatchewan 8, Saskatoon
2004-Laval 7, Saskatchewan 1, Hamilton
2003-Laval 14, Saint Mary’s 7, Toronto
1999-Laval 14, Saint Mary’s 10, Toronto
1967-Alberta 10, McMaster 9, Toronto
The McMaster Marauders dominated all-Canadian teams announced Wednesday in university football.