It’s the everyday camaraderie they’ll miss the most say the Guelph Gryphons players who used up their fifth and final year of eligibility in Ontario university football play Saturday.
The Gryphons saw their season come to an end as they were handed a 19-9 setback by the McMaster Marauders in a semifinal match at Hamilton.
“It was the best five years of my life and I’m going to miss it dearly,” linebacker and Guelph native Job Reinhart said as he stood among teammates, family and friends on McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium field shortly after the game.
“I’m just super thankful to play with all these guys and to just finish off as a Gryphon,” said quarterback Theo Landers, another fifth-year Gryphon. “It’s just being around the guys. It’s just seeing those 100-some odd guys on the team every single day. That’s probably what I’m going to miss the most I would say. It’s a lot bigger than football. I’ve built a lot of relationships and I can truly say I have a lot of brothers on this team.”
“It’s all my past teammates,” offensive lineman Eric Starczala said. “We’re all family. From (Stu) Lang all the way to (Ryan) Sheahan, all the coaches did a good job of making us a family and that’s what made me come to Guelph. It was the family atmosphere and that stuck around. All of these guys are my brothers.”
The Gryphons held a 7-5 lead at halftime thanks to a Juwan Jeffrey touchdown on a two-yard run with about a minute and a half to go in the half. However, the Marauders rallied with two touchdowns in the third quarter to grab a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Eric Stranz converted Jeffrey’s touchdown and McMaster conceded a safety for the other points for Guelph.
Quarterback Andreas Dueck on a 55-yard run amd Blake Reason on a 24-yard reception of a pass from Dueck were McMaster’s touchdowns. Adam Preocanin kicked a 31-yard field goal and two converts and the Gryphons also conceded a safety accounted for the other points for the hosts.
McMaster advances to play the Western Mustangs in the OUA championship Yates Cup game next Saturday at London.
“The whole thing was awesome,” Reinhart said of his five years with the Gryphons. “All the friends I made, all the boys and it’s something I’ll remember forever.”
“It’s just the brotherhood I’ve built with all these guys,” Landers said. “I feel it’s the closest locker room in the country and I’m happy that I was able to build friendships that are going to last a lot longer than just here playing football.”
The Gryphons had six fifth-year players on the team. The others were defensive back Akeem Knowles, receiver Kade Belyk and defensive lineman Greg Corfield.
In university sports, players have a maximum of five years of eligibility.
However, many players leave after their fourth season if they’ve completed their studies. Players are also eligible for the CFL draft following their fourth year.
There were 14 Gryphons in their fourth year of eligibility on the roster this season -- quarterback Dante Djan, receivers Kian Schaffer-Baker and Abdraman Abdel-Rahim, running back Harry Robinson, fullback Lukas Brennan, offensive linemen Ben Petrie and Coulter Woodmansey, defensive backs Graham Brodie (a Guelph native), Patrick Pierre, Dotun Aketepe and Jason Richards, linebacker A.J. Allen and defensive linemen Alain Cimankinda and Daniel Fascione.
“For the seniors, we have to thank them for everything they gave us,” Gryphon coach Ryan Sheahan said. “For the fourth years, I hope we get a few of them back because that’s going to help us moving forward and everybody else has to use tough losses from the previous year as fuel moving forward.”
The Gryphons eligible to return will rest and heal up a little bit before returning to begin workouts for next season.
“It won’t start tomorrow. It’ll start soon,” Sheahan said. “There are only eight teams left (playing Canadian university football this season) and unfortunately we’re not one of them. We put our best foot forward and that’s all I can really say about it.”