Gaiters football team finds sta­bil­ity and peace of mind back on the field

Sherbrooke Record - - LOCAL SPORTS - By Michael Boriero - Lo­cal Jour­nal­ism Ini­tia­tive Re­porter

Af­ter wait­ing with bated breath for months to hear the Réseau du sport étu­di­ant du Québec’s (RSEQ) fi­nal de­ci­sion re­gard­ing the fall sea­son, the Bishop’s Univer­sity Gaiters football team wasted lit­tle time get­ting back on the field.

The RSEQ was the Gaiters’ last hope for any type of com­pe­ti­tion this sea­son, even if it was only go­ing to be in the form of ex­hi­bi­tion games. Que­bec’s sports gov­ern­ing body ul­ti­mately de­cided to can­cel all fall sports.

“Once it was con­firmed that there was go­ing to be no games, our fo­cus turned to player de­vel­op­ment, so we started with about two weeks of no strate­gies, no schemes, just skill de­vel­op­ment,” said head coach Cherif Ni­co­las.

While the de­ci­sion is dis­ap­point­ing, Ni­co­las said the ma­jor­ity of his team is still on cam­pus and ready to play football. They prac­ticed twice last week, at a dis­tance, for the first time in nearly six months. The play­ers still want to be on the field, he ex­plained, even with­out a sea­son.

“We’re talk­ing about high-level ath­letes, right? So their level of com­mit­ment, you know, when you play univer­sity football you don’t need to be very mo­ti­vated to try to get bet­ter, it’s part of your DNA,” said Ni­co­las.

The dis­ap­point­ment hit a bit ear­lier for Bishop’s. The football team doesn’t ac­tu­ally play in the RSEQ. They joined the At­lantic Univer­sity Sport (AUS) divi­sion sev­eral years ago. The AUS cancelled the fall sea­son back in April.

How­ever, that didn’t stop play­ers from com­ing back to cam­pus. Ni­co­las has 83 play­ers reg­is­tered this sea­son out of a reg­u­lar 93-per­son ros­ter. He said that 10 play­ers opted to study on­line this se­mes­ter. But the rest of the team is fully com­mit­ted to the ad­justed pro­gram.

Prac­tices look a lot dif­fer­ent, Ni­co­las con­tin­ued, they con­stantly dis­in­fect bags, balls and other equip­ment. They al­ways try to main­tain a phys­i­cal dis­tance, which is most no­tice­able dur­ing team stretch with play­ers spread out across both side­lines.

“We’re also lim­it­ing the amount of time that play­ers are in close prox­im­ity with each other, we’re talk­ing about con­tact drills or drills where they’re face-to-face, so we’ve re­duced that, we try to man­age the reps in terms of those sit­u­a­tions,” he said.

Ni­co­las be­lieves that with­out a reg­u­lar sea­son, this is the best pos­si­ble sce­nario at this point. The only other op­tion is to sit at home, not prac­tic­ing, which is some­thing the head coach is not will­ing to do again.

Ni­co­las told The Record that the lock­down was one of the hard­est ex­pe­ri­ences of his life. Not be­ing on the field, not see­ing his play­ers or help­ing them de­velop their skills, weighed on him. And with so much un­cer­tainty re­gard­ing sports, he wants to take ad­van­tage of ev­ery minute.

“Is it go­ing to get dull at a cer­tain point? Yes, for sure. It’s my job and the rest of the staff’s job to keep it in­ter­est­ing [...] whether it’s hav­ing a mock game with ref­er­ees, it’s up to us to keep the guys di­alled in, fo­cused on school and fo­cused on get­ting bet­ter,” Ni­co­las said.

Fourth-year football player

Remi Des­bi­ens said there was never any doubt in his mind about re­turn­ing to the team this fall. He added that it has been hard to stay mo­ti­vated over the last few months, es­pe­cially with­out hav­ing any of his team­mates to push him.

But he’s happy with the di­rec­tion the team is tak­ing right now. They’re fo­cus­ing a lot on longterm re­sults and get­ting pre­pared for next sea­son. The coaches keep all of the play­ers on their toes, he con­tin­ued, cre­at­ing a healthy com­pe­ti­tion within the team.

“They gave us a lot of com­pe­ti­tion, as much as they can, so that helps us to stay mo­ti­vated even if there is no cookie at the end of the week, which would be the game,” said Des­bi­ens.

The hard­est part for the vet­eran univer­sity ath­lete was com­ing to grips with los­ing his fi­nal sea­son with the Gaiters. He wasn’t pre­pared to re­tire from football; he wanted to do it on his own terms. Luck­ily, the league made an ex­cep­tion for next sea­son.

“It was kind of hard to be hon­est with you, ba­si­cally this would be my last year, so it was hard get­ting told that ba­si­cally your football ca­reer would be done, but they changed el­i­gi­bil­ity, so they gave us one more year and that helped a lit­tle bit,” Des­bi­ens said.

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