OUA brothers stick together

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:38 AM ET

It's a sort of secret society within the Canadian Football League and it doesn't have a name.

Jude St. John, the large London lad who bolsters the Toronto Argonauts offensive line, describes it as a silent rooting section certain players have for both teammate and opponent.

"There's an OUA (Ontario University Athletics) camaraderie," St. John said. "You stick together, even say hello to OUA guys on other teams."

They all came into the pros from the same background, essentially. They all know what it took to get there.

One of the leading beneficiaries of the OUA cadre right now is Jeff Keeping, the former Western Mustang tight end who is in the process of doing what is almost unthinkable. He made it as a centre in pro ball without ever having played the position as an amateur.

When the Argonauts kept him rather than sending him back to Western for another year, hearts sank in the Mustangs coaching staff. Over at the Forest City Football Camp at CCH yesterday, strength and conditioning coach Rob Lowe said the skilled athlete is up to more than 280 well- proportioned pounds.

St. John said Keeping made his own breakthrough.

"I think they were thinking of sending him back to Western to spend a season on the line and I remember telling him to make that your choice," St. John said. "He's done really well. To go in and play centre having never played it before is impressive.

"Chad and I agree he's as good a rookie as we can remember. He'll have a long career in this league."

Chad is Chad Folk, the starting centre whom Keeping backs up. St. John and Folk spent extra time with him during training camp and he played his way onto the roster.

One of the reasons former Canadian university guys are on the same page socially is because they are on the same page of the payroll list. It's a good living, but it's not enough to provide the post-career cushion athletes in the other North American pro leagues are guaranteed.

St. John laughed when he touched on his role as emcee of a banquet and goose-calling competition in Colorado last winter. The veteran outdoorsman saw an interesting parallel between his payoff for winning the Grey Cup last fall and the champion goose-caller's purse.

"He got $15,000 (US), I got $12,000 (Cdn)," St. John chuckled.

It's been said a million times -- and NHL players are about to prove it again -- athletes will play for whatever the market bears. For veteran Canadian offensive linemen, it's well under six figures.

But for guys like St. John, it provides the framework for other things. He is a motivational speaker and also carries a strong message to young people. He teamed up with London's veteran Olympian Jason Tunks last winter to visit a number of elementary and high schools.

"When they see guys our size (St. John weighs 308 pounds, the six-foot-six Tunks comes in at about 275), being big athletes helps when you're trying to get across an anti-bullying message. It comes through well," he said.

St. John expects some attempted bullying tonight when the Argos play the Saskatchewan Roughriders (CBC, 7 p.m.) at the Rogers Centre.

"I'd say they've got the two best interior linemen in the league in Nate Davis and Scott Schultz," he said. "We've got our work cut out for us. It's always a physical game against Saskatchewan; you really feel it afterward."

Getting back to that secret society, there's an even more exclusive one.

"Everyone likes to hate Western so we (he and Keeping) have to stick together," St. John said. "I give 'em a hard time because we were last to win the Vanier Cup."

He says he used to clean up on bets between the Mustangs and former teams of other players, but hasn't done all that well lately.


Videos

Photos