Perfection, and the quest for it in sport, captures the attention of us all.
So it’s safe to say the Canadian university football spotlight - especially after their epic Vanier Cup win in 2011 – has never shone brighter on the McMaster Marauders.
The 2012 version of the Mac men rolled through the OUA, beating their opponents by an average of 30 points, finishing the regular season with an unblemished 8-0 record.
|Learning from the best|
- Kyle Quinlan on Anthony Calvillo
It’s just the fourth time in school history, first since 2003, that the Marauders went unbeaten through the regular schedule.
McMaster’s goose egg in the loss column has pundits talking about the possibility of an undefeated season, which would require the team to capture their second consecutive Vanier Cup championship.
Mind you, only four schools have ever won back-to-back CIS football titles: Manitoba (1969-1970), Western (1976-1977), Saint Mary’s (2001-2002) and Laval (2003-2004).
Add to that, just 13 times in CIS history has a team finished the season without a loss and claimed a CIS football title.
“After winning it all last season and returning quite a big portion of our team we knew that expectations were going to be high,” quarterback Kyle Quinlan said.
Before his fifth and final season, the veteran pivot had the chance to get an up close look at one of the best ever to play the quarterback position on a Canadian field, Anthony Calvillo.
After going undrafted in the 2012 CFL draft, Quinlan was signed by the Montreal Alouettes. He attended training camp with the club, before being released to finish out his career at McMaster, but gleaned some valuable knowledge from the CFL’s all-time leading passer.
“One thing that jumped out to me when I think of observing Calvillo in his own camp was just the attention to detail he still had. The guy has been in the league for a long time and he still was writing everything down and had a notebook with him at all times,” Quinlan explained.
“He was just totally dialed in at every practice and every film session. So for me coming back to university in my fifth year, that’s something I applied. I tried to stay dialed in during all our film sessions, write a bunch of notes, take things down and try to improve my game.”
Quinlan was dialed in all regular season long. He threw for 2,457 yards, averaging over 300 on a per game basis, 19 touchdowns and was intercepted just twice on 235 pass attempts.
Most impressively through the air, however, is that Quinlan completed 68.9 per cent of his attempts, good enough to set a new OUA single-season record.
Not to mention he picked up 550 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground as well. All told, Quinlan accounted for 3,007 yards of offence and 26 touchdowns.
“The year he’s had, those eight games, are as good as I’ve seen from any quarterback in the CIS, ever,” Marauders head coach, Stefan Ptaszek said.
However, despite all the gaudy statistics, Quinlan’s bench boss has seen his pivot grow and mature in other areas.
“Watching Coach (Marc) Trestman and Anthony Calvillo go to work every day and how much attention to detail they had and how they influence the locker room and just the presence that they command has really helped him,” Ptaszek said.
“Kyle brings out the best in all of the kids in the huddle.”
“He’s the leader of our team. We all look up to him in the game,” offensive lineman Matt Sewell said. “In practice when our tempo is not as high as it needs to be he picks it up.”
Sewell protects Quinlan’s blindside, lining up at left offensive tackle, and he’s done such a good job keeping his quarterback’s jersey clean that CFL scouts ranked him the top offensive lineman prospect, among all eligible, for the 2013 Canadian draft.
“You can’t teach size and Matt’s range and first step on the edge is pretty unique,” Ptaszek said. “Being a Canadian tackle in the CFL is very rare. He reminds me a lot of Chris Van Zeyl who is one of the few Canadian tackles who’s playing at a high level for the Argos.”
Each Marauder practice, Sewell lines up across from one of the most gifted defensive players in the country, Ben D’Aguilar.
Number 52 for the Marauders always had the physical tools to succeed, but scouts wanted to see him put his raw talent to work and produce at the university level. So all D’Aguilar did was go out and rack up 12.5 sacks, a new CIS record single-season record, and single handedly destroy offensive game plans throughout the Marauders perfect regular season campaign.
“You watch some of the things he does and it’s scary. He’s a frightening athlete, someone that can completely change games by himself,” Quinlan said. “We’ve all been watching him morph into more and more of a dynamic playmaker.”
|2011 Vanier Cup Rewind|
It was one of the most thrilling games in Canadian football history, with the Marauders earning a 41-28 double-overtime victory over the Laval Rouge et Or for their first Vanier Cup victory.
» READ: Marauders win Vanier Cup
“He’s fast enough and big and strong enough to play anywhere on the defence and trying to find him a niche that physically, mentally and emotionally was perfect for him took some time,” Ptaszek said.
D’Aguilar, the 10th ranked prospect on the CFL’s scouting bureau list, all but agreed with his coach.
“I had the physical tools down, but it took a bit for me to learn the mental aspect. So I just opened up my mind to the mental aspect of football. Maybe I underestimated it before and in my first three years. I realized it’s the biggest part in getting to the next level,” he said.
D’Aguilar’s mental improvement clearly allowed him to take his game to new heights. Similar to the way he and his teammates had to adjust their mindset in going from underdogs, on the way to a Vanier Cup championship a year ago, to favourites and being expected to win it all this season.
“Last year we were coming up out of the fire and ashes. Where as this year we’re touted as the guys on top,” D’Aguilar said.
Despite there being a big target on their backs all season long, the Marauders dealt with it well and have seemingly gotten used to the role of favourite. Coach Ptaszek and his group have reeled off 18-straight victories, the last time McMaster suffered a loss was Sept. 10, 2011.
Think about that, the iPhone 4S was still about a month away from being released, Tyler Varga played for the Western Mustangs, not the Yale Bulldogs and Laval was the number one ranked team in the country coming off a Vanier Cup championship looking to repeat.
Of course, McMaster ended Laval’s quest for back-to-back CIS championships, trending on twitter in the process, with a thrilling double overtime victory in the 47th Vanier Cup. And the Marauders have another opportunity to best the Rouge et Or.
Laval holds the CIS record for consecutive wins with 19, set between 2004 and 2005. McMaster needs one to tie and two to break it. But more importantly with the regular season in the rearview mirror, it’s win or go home from here on out for McMaster and the magic number is four. Four wins separate the Marauders from claiming consecutive Vanier Cup championships.
“I think of it as another challenge,” Quinlan said of the opportunity to become just the fifth team in CIS history to go back-to-back. “It’s a historic fact, so we can go out there and put our mark on history.”
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|