UNBSJ gridders have their own silver linings playbook

Saint John, NB – Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 was a good day for Seawolves’ football.

The University of New Brunswick-Saint John’s entry in the Atlantic Football League defeated the Dalhousie University Tigers 19-12 to advance to the Moosehead Cup championship.

The significance of what happened 1,031 days ago at Wickwire Field in Halifax is not lost on team president and general-manager Barry Ogden – that playoff game represents the last victory by a Seawolves’ team on the gridiron.

If numbers matter, these ones aren’t for the faint of heart:

  • 2 winless seasons;
  • 15 consecutive losses;
  • 80 points scored, 440 points allowed.

The worst of it came last season as a young Seawolves’ team endured a 0-7 season, were shut out three times and outscored 211-19.

Now, if you think there aren’t any silver linings to this playbook, you would be mistaken.

Here’s one: A solid coaching staff led by former collegiate player Nathan Gorham, who is back at the helm for his second year to continue a rebuilding process. He will be assisted by defensive co-ordinator Rob Fox, defensive line coach Matthew Porter, linebackers coach Phil Reid and offensive line coach Bazin Kern.

Here’s two: A solid foundation of top players led by the team’s five 2016 AHL all-stars - wide receiver Tyler Curnew, linebacker Colin Landers, defensive lineman Jerrad Fawcett and defensive backs Nick Gillespie and Austin Ring – are back in the fold.

Here’s three: A clean slate for prospective Seawolves when camp opens Aug. 25 at UNBSJ as they work toward the season opener Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. in Halifax against the reigning champion Tigers. And, adds Ogden, interest is high.

“We’ve had a young team for two years and we were low in numbers,” said Ogden, the league’s founding father. “We have a lot of players returning and I’ve had about 20 text messages from players I’ve never met in the past three weeks, which is good news. The big issue that has surfaced in the last few years is the league as a whole – it’s changed. It’s no longer about local kids. We’re probably the only team that’s built around local players.

“Can local kids compete? Well, the last two years have been a struggle. They’ve been going up against players from across Canada and the United States and that kind of thing seems to happening more and more in our league. It’s become difficult, but I think we’ll be up in numbers. There’s a big difference between players 17 and 18 and players who are 24 years of age. We’re still going to be a young team, but yes, we can be competitive.”

Not lost in the conversation is the opportunity to play college football. When Ogden’s vision for a low-budget collegiate league became a reality in 2009, it opened the door for UNB-Fredericton, Dalhousie and Holland College to bring the game back to their campuses after decades in mothballs.

And, from Ogden’s perspective, it created a porthole for young players to stay home and get a more-affordable education while playing football. “That’s always been our goal in Saint John – to try and find a way to keep young people home,” said Ogden. “Once they leave it’s hard to get them to come back, and I think Saint John, and New Brunswick, should do all we can to help them stay home. Football is one way we’re trying to do that.”

Another factor that plays on Ogden’s hit list is community support. “Oh, that’s extremely important,” he said. “We are not a university-sponsored team so we pay our own bills. Drawing good crowds helps and the players take notice of that support as well. It matters – everything matters.”

Time will tell if UNBSJ can return to the glory days under Dave Grandy, who guided the Seawolves to the school’s only AFL championship in 2010. For now, it’s one good step forward at a time. “When we open the season, fans who come out to our games are going to see a better team,” said Ogden. “Any given Sunday, right?”

Players interested in attending Seawolves’ training camp can reach out to Ogden at bogden@nb.sympatico.ca or head coach Nathan Gorham at gorham@saintjohnseawolves.ca. Students between the ages of 17 and 24 attending UNBSJ on a full-time and part-time basis, or NBCC-Saint John, are eligible to play for the Seawolves, as are athletes under 25 years of age who are working and residing in southern New Brunswick.

Ron Barry

Former managing editor of the Telegraph-Journal ronald.joseph.barry@gmail.com