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Grenadiers linebacker firing on all cylinders
Posted: July 3rd, 2013 @ 11:36pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
When the high school football season was finished last autumn at Holy Cross, Aaron Brownlee was pleased to be getting his fair share of attention from university recruiters.
Problem was, he wasn't getting a sniff from one school that interested him.
"X was one of the schools that wasn't looking at me," Brownlee said last night, after a practice with the Kingston Grenadiers.
"I was lucky enough to have a lot of interest from a few schools but I was always interested in X."
Many of his former teammates from the Ontario Varsity Football League team had wound up in Antigonish, Brownlee said, and he thought St. Francis Xavier University was worth a look from him, too.
"So I emailed the coach and said, 'Hey, I'm from Kingston, here's a little bit of info about me' and we got talking. They eventually became interested in me after talking to Bob."
That would be Bob Mullen, Brownlee's coach with the Grenadiers, who, it would turn out some months later, was going to be the new defensive co-ordinator of the X-Men.
"Once I found out he was going there, now I was really interested," Brownlee said. "They had me out for a visit and I just fell in love with it. The players, the coaches - everyone in the town was so warm and welcoming.
"It just felt like the place I wanted to be for the next five years."
In the meantime, however, Brownlee and Mullen have some work to do right here. On Saturday, the varsity Grenadiers will resume their undefeated season with a 4 p.m. game at Loyalist Collegiate against the Metro Toronto Wildcats. It will be the final game of a tripleheader that begins at 11 a.m. with a bantam contest between the Grenadiers and Wildcats and continues at 1 p.m. when the junior Grenadiers host the Niagara Spears.
The varsity Grenadiers have allowed just one touchdown in five games this year and Brownlee has been a big part of that, Mullen says.
"We've been together a long time and he has just been progressing constantly," Mullen said. "He's improved all aspects of his game, he's physically strong, he works like a dog in the weight room. He's a student of the game.
"He just doesn't make mistakes that he doesn't learn from."
A gifted defender against the run whose pass coverage has improved greatly, Brownlee has what Mullen calls "a fast motor," meaning he plays hard and fast. Among the members of the force unit, he's the leader.
"We don't huddle but he's making calls and directing people," Mullen said. "He knows what everybody is supposed to do and I think everybody there looks to him for his leadership on the field.
"That's what your best players need to be like."
Brownlee, Hamilton-born and now living in Adolphustown, is bound to study human kinetics at St. F.X. He says there's a simple explanation for the defensive success of the Grenadiers.
"It's hard to have a bad defence with Bob Mullen coaching," Brownlee said. "Just having him makes us really, really good.
"We've got a lot of returning senior players who are really working cohesively together. We've communicated really well, whether that's pointing out a certain player that we notice or calling an audible. We've all been on the same page and having Bob Mullen's great schemes makes it easier for us to be successful."
Brownlee marvels at the time Mullen devotes each week to studying video of the upcoming opponent, and he said it's not difficult having to learn a different blueprint each week.
"I prefer it," he said. "I'd much rather tailor our defence to each team than just play one base all the time. It's a lot more successful that way. We don't get players out of position or doing things they're not comfortable doing."
That comfort, Brownlee said, helps to instill confidence.
"We've been able to transfer that onto the field," he said. "We've had a lot of success."
Whether that success continues will be severely tested by the Wildcats, 2-3 going into Saturday's contest.
"They've got some guys that scare you," Mullen said.
Their quarterback, Brett Stein, has completed 63 per cent of his passes and in 119 attempts has had only one intercepted.
"I read that his idol is Doug Flutie and he sort of plays like him," Mullen said. "He's small but very athletic."
They have a speedy slotback in Trivel Pinto - "a very good athlete, quick, can make you miss in space," Mullen said - and a 6-foot-7 receiver from St. Andrew's College named Malcolm Carter, who hasn't been under 80 yards receiving in any of the three games he's played. "He's fast enough and he's strong," Mullen said. "He's a big kid who doesn't go down easily.
"They're guys who can score from distance."
Mullen said what the Wildcats do isn't complicated.
"They throw it 15 times down the field. If they catch four of them and three of them get into the end zone, they've got 21 points."
Despite their record, Brownlee said, the Wildcats are a good team.
"Especially on offence, they've got a lot of good athletes," he said. "They're very fast. We can't be sitting around. We've got to read the play and react quickly to it."
The junior Grenadiers, 1-5, will be trying to improve their playoff prospects Saturday against a Niagara team that started the year 0-2 but has won its last three in a row. The bantam Grens will be second in six games at the expense of a 2-3 Metro club that has lost its last two and is 0-2 on the road.
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