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