When Dan McCullough retired from the BC Lions, the timing couldn’t have been better for the UNB Red Bombers. Returning to his home town of Fredericton Dan found the Red Bombers in their 5th season and he offered to lend a hand. A year or so later, and the team was in transition as its legendary leader Mike Dollimore decided to retire as Head Coach after the 2014 season.
Dan threw his hat in as the Board’s selection committee looked for a new HC. One of Dan’s comments stood out to the committee. “I want to build a football program, not just a team.” It captured precisely the vision our Founders held for the return of the Red Bombers to the UNB Campus.
From the beginning, our founders and supporters understood that the Red Bombers had had an effect on their campus life that went beyond the game. From 1949-1980 the Red Bombers had defined Fall at UNB.
Today, university sport is played in a different cultural, media, and economic environment than in the years of the team’s earlier eras; but in this new environment, the impact of Dan McCullough and his UNB Red Bombers is equally felt in new ways.
A sad thing happens to High School football players on their way to university with dreams of playing for their Alma Mater. 95% are never invited to be given the chance. That wasn’t the case for this young man, the UNB Red Bombers’ 2015 League-All-Star Middle Linebacker, Charles Dee. Graduating from Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton three years ago, Charles had more than one invitation to CIS Football Camps.
However, Charles knew that at then aged 17 going on 18 he’d be no physical match for a 25 year old CIS Senior. Pursuing his love, football, would mean going away to school along with the added expense and the likelihood of burning a couple of years of 5 year CIS eligibility not being dressed or sitting on the bench while he trained and got stronger.
UNB’s Atlantic Football League (AFL) franchise the UNB Red Bombers, gave Charles and his family a different path. Charles has been able to go to university at home for his 1st and 2nd years playing football under expert coaching and training who know the game at the CIS and CFL levels, and not burning any CIS eligibility. Oh, and by the way, after 2 years with the Red Bombers, Charles is now big, strong, fast, fierce, and knows the game. This year, he’ll be suiting up for Acadia … and playing … and with all his CIS eligibility intact.
On the other half of the coin, with the AFL age limits the same as the CIS, the past 7 seasons have seen nearly 2 dozen CIS football players (including an AUS All-Star) return to UNB either after their CIS eligibility ran out or to complete studies. With 1 or more seasons remaining until their 25th birthday, they’ve continued to play football for the UNB Red Bombers which is common among teams across the AFL. These players help keep the league standards high, but what’s more they have been more than willing to mentor young players.
The CFL have already invited 4 AFL players to their regional combines. It is only a matter of time until that eventual day that an AFL player goes to a CFL Training Camp.
High School football players setting off to university can still dream of playing for their Alma Mater. Sure, Coach McCullough invites players he scouts from the High School ranks; but as it has been since 1949, High School football players don’t have to be invited to come to a UNB Red Bombers training camp. They only have to have the will to show up, the love for the game, and the grit to be a UNB Red Bomber.
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