By Dan Plouffe
The 1-0 University of Ottawa Gee-Gees are all set to kick off their home schedule against the Queen’s Golden Gaels this Saturday, Sept. 10 at Frank Clair Stadium, and a big reason why the club can say it’s 1-0 is due to the local talent that fills its lineup.
Orleans’ Aaron Colbon was the big star in Ottawa’s 35-8 road victory over the Guelph Gryphons on Labour Day Monday, collecting Ontario University Athletics football player-of-the-week honours in his first career start.
The Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School grad filled the hole left by 2010 Canadian Interuniversity Sport MVP Brad Sinopoli admirably, completing 23 of 32 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, plus another 46 yards rushing.
“When you have change, people sometimes think of the worst right away,” says Gee-Gees coach J.P. Asselin, who wasn’t at all surprised to see Colbon succeed. “Our players know what Aaron can do, and that’s what’s important.”
But it wasn’t only the Colbon show. Other Ottawa players to make their mark included linebacker Tyler Sawyer, who led his team with 7.5 tackles, defensive lineman Ettore Lattanzio with two sacks, and runningback Brendan Gillanders, who cracked the 200-yard mark in rushing and receiving yards.
Senior receiver Steven Hughes also owned a key role before getting injured in the Guelph contest, which leaves receiving duties to two other area players from the area – Gatineau’s Simon Le Marquand and Kanata’s Bogdan Raid, who hauled in two touchdown catches last week as part of his 138 receiving yards.
“There’s a lot of good football players in Ottawa,” Asselin notes. “The biggest minor football league in the country, NCAFA, is here in Ottawa, and there’s three junior teams. In fact, we never get all the kids we want from Ottawa.”
Asselin and his staff recruit from across the country, and they’ll take the best athletes they can find, but not without taking a long hard look in their own backyard first.
“I think it’s important to have a good base of Ottawa players,” Asselin explains, adding that he’d sooner take a local player of equal talent because they’ll have an easier transition to university life. “It’s good to have fans at our games, and really, it’s the logical decision to recruit here in Ottawa.”
There are piles more players that grew up in Ottawa and now play at the university level – a testament to the quality of local minor football programs, Colbon believes.
“I really liked the level of competitiveness we had around here,” says the former Cumberland Panther. “We had the OVFL – one team from the east and one team from the west, so it gave us a nice little rivalry.
“We also had a nice rivalry in Orleans, and we have a lot of guys on the team from Orleans. Around here we like to joke around about who’s the better team – Sir Wilfrid Laurier or St. Pete’s.
“We always have our little fights about that, but we all know Sir Wilfrid Laurier is a lot better.”
NEW FACES RISE FOR OTTAWA U
As the Gee-Gees get set to face the Golden Gaels, who fell 26-2 to McMaster last weekend, they do it with a fairly different lineup than the one that lost last season’s Yates Cup provincial final in the dying moments.
“I think (the loss) was a source of motivation for sure in the long off-season when there’s a lot of work and hard training to do,” Asselin describes. “But now we’re a new group with a lot of new faces. Forget last year or the year before, this is the 2011 Gee-Gees.”
One thing that’s unchanged, however, is the team’s objectives, and with Colbon leading the charge along with a strong crop of homegrown talent, the second-year head coach aims to only move forward.
“Our goal is to win the last game of the year in the CIS,” Asselin states. “If your goal becomes any different than that, then I don’t want to be coaching you. That has to be the goal for everyone here, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Frank Clair Stadium, in Lansdowne Park.
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