When the Guelph Gryphons hit the Alumni Stadium turf for their OUA football season opener against the Toronto Varsity Blues Saturday afternoon, the player with the biggest smile on his face might just be veteran long snapper and defensive back Simon Chaves.
“I'm excited. I'm excited to get back out there,” the 25-year-old Guelph native said following an on-field session at training camp.
Chaves had his 2022 season cut short, really short, as he suffered a season-ending ACL injury to his right knee in the opening half of the season opener in London against the Western Mustangs. Although he’s now in his sixth season with the Gryphons, it didn’t take him long to decide he didn’t want his university football career to end that way.
“I think I would regret it and because it was in the first game I wouldn't lose any eligibility so I thought 'I'm going to have to (come back),'” he said. “I would regret it if I was 40 and I could've played football and I didn't.”
Of course the Gryphons are glad to have him back on the field, too.
“Losing an experienced player like Simon Chaves to a season-ending injury, you not only lose his ability, but you lose his leadership because he's battling and rehabbing back,” head coach Ryan Sheahan said. “We're all very proud of him because he took his rehab very seriously. As soon as it happened he was dedicated to finishing his career here.
"He made the decision almost immediately he was going to return for his last year of eligibility so we're thrilled he's back.”
It wasn’t an easy road to recovery, though.
“It was tough,” Chaves said. “I saw Chris (DeZorzi, Gryphons athletic therapist) a lot throughout eight to nine months of rehab. But it's good now.
“The first couple of weeks there, you can't really walk or do anything so it got pretty swollen, but once you get over those humps it gets easier and easier and easier.”
Chaves is a two-sport athlete as he’d been an OUA second-team all-star in wrestling in the 2021-2022 season. The injury in football ended his 2022-2023 wrestling season before it began.
“I couldn't wrestle in the winter, just timing wise. This year again, though,” Chaves said. “(University wrestling season) was at six or seven months (after the injury). I was able to run, but I think just wrestling on it would've been a bit too much. By them I knew I was coming back so at least I'd have a full year to get it perfectly healthy and then give it one last go.
“I would try and practise here and there, but nothing competitive.”
Recovering from the injury wasn’t the first challenge Chaves had with the varsity football team. He had to learn defensive schemes as he switched his position from quarterback in high school to the other side of the line.
“That was tough,” he said. “I more had the skills of tackling just because of wrestling, but to learn to cover and playing within the defence, it took a bit to get used to.”
Being a Guelph CVI graduate meant he became the third GCVI Green Gael to be a Gryphon long snapper in a decade, following the Reinhart brothers, Jake and Job. And he felt being a quarterback helped with the long snapping, too.
“It helped for long snapping being able to throw the ball between my legs this time,” he said.
One thing he was hoping would help his long snapping last year were the tips he received when he attended the 2022 CFL training camp of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“It was good. I learned a lot,” he said. “They have a veteran long snapper there and I was just trying to pick up from him and translate it to this. I'll hopefully go back to something, but you never know.”
Now he’s back as the most veteran of the Gryphons.
“Yeah, I've been here a while,” he said. “I'm the last person from my recruiting class.”
That, though, means lots of experience.
“He's one of our leaders,” Sheahan said. “He's a captain, our long snapper and such a positive presence in the locker room. When you're a young nucleus, you're just proud to have veteran leadership like him to be able to mentor some of these young guys and show them the way Gryphon football operates.”
“I'm not too vocal, but if guys ask questions I try to help them out,” Chaves said. “I try to not talk too much and just do what I do. It's been weird being the oldest guy.”
“That kind of experience and maturity, it's almost like having another coach on the field,” Sheahan said.
As for personal goals for this coming season playing at a position that shouldn’t be scoring points, Chaves keeps it simple.
“I think being consistent and kind of taking away some things that I learned when I went to Winnipeg there and trying to translate them into this year,” he said. “(I want to) have a good consistent year.”
Game time Saturday is 1 p.m.