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Former Gael Scott MacDonell thrilled to be part of history in the making
Posted: July 16th, 2014 @ 9:30pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
They'll play the first professional football game in Ottawa since 2006 on Friday night, and in his first professional season, Scott MacDonell is pretty pleased with the idea that he's going to be part of it.
"It's starting to get a little crazy," the former Queen's Golden Gael said. "There's a definite buzz around Ottawa, which is really cool."
The Toronto Argonauts will be the opponents when the Ottawa RedBlacks play the first home game of their Canadian Football League season at the refurbished stadium at Lansdowne Park.
As he prepares for it, MacDonell says he has a sense of being part of a piece of impending football history.
"Every day since I've been here it's kind of grown a little bit, and I'm starting to understand exactly what it is, but I think I'll get the culture shock once we're there and we see everyone going crazy.
"It's starting to pick up and I'm hearing it's going to be a pretty big crowd so I'm more than jacked up. I would have been ecstatic to be drafted anywhere but now that I'm in Ottawa and have the opportunity to be part of this inaugural season, I can't really ask for too much more."
Though there's no escaping the backdrop, MacDonell said the players are not privy to anything that might be going on around the game.
"We've got to win a football game, right? So we can't really be distracted by all that other stuff. We understand exactly how much this game means, but to us the attitude we're taking is, yeah, it's big, it means a lot to the city of Ottawa - but to us it's the most important game because it's the next one."
A receiver, MacDonell has spent most of his time in the RedBlacks' first two games on special teams.
"I can't complain too much," he said. "I'm on the active roster. I've got a good amount of time on specials. I've been playing well, I think. Obviously, I would have loved to have more playing time on offence, but I know how that works. I've got to bite the bullet and wait for my opportunity."
MacDonell left Queen's with a commerce degree in May, after a career-best 2013 university season of 30 receptions and 440 yards. A second-round selection in the May CFL draft, he caught a couple of balls in Ottawa's first preseason game.
"I thought, 'OK, I've got a pretty good chance," he said, "but it was never, 'Oh, I've made the team.' It was always, 'As long as I continue like this, doing what I'm doing right now' (I'd be fine)."
MacDonell recalled his welcome-to-the-CFL moment came the day after the RedBlacks' second preseason game in Montreal - where he lined up against former Queen's teammate Andrew Lue. The following morning, players were killing time in the residence at Carleton University where, one by one, they were called to a room to be told they were being released. MacDonell wasn't one of them.
"I walked back to my room and I thought, 'OK, I guess I should probably show up at this 1:30 meeting,' and they said, 'If you're here, it's a good thing.' I thought, 'Well, they haven't told me I'm on the practice roster, so I guess I made it.'"
Playing in Ottawa holds mixed memories for MacDonell, who grew up in Montreal in the shadow of McGill University. He recalled the disappointment of losing at Frank Clair Stadium in 2011, his second year, but he also remembers it for being the place where he caught his first intercollegiate pass, a five-yard completion from Billy McPhee in the fourth quarter of a 19-6 defeat.
Most CFL clubs have already played three games, and they've all played at least once at home in the young season. That the RedBlacks have played only twice, both on the road, may one day prove to be beneficial, MacDonell said.
"It taught us that we can go into another ball park and compete," he said, "and as on any road trip, you're staying in close quarters, (eating) pre-game meals together, and those are opportunities to bond. As a young team that's what you need: a chance to come together early."
Though Ottawa has lost both of its games so far - by eight and 16 points to Winnipeg and Edmonton, two teams who are, so far, undefeated - MacDonell remains excited about the prospects for the season.
'I think we're going to surprise some people," he said. "I would not be surprised if we were contending to win the east by the end of the year, based on what I've seen, based on the work ethic, based on the belief in the locker room.
"I understand about one game at a time and I don't want to get ahead of myself, but we have some high aspirations and we're going to shoot for the moon. I wasn't as confident when I first showed up, just because of what expansion teams have done in the past, but the coaches did an unbelievable job the first day of getting rid of that unknown, saying, 'Listen, we're not going to say it anymore, this is the last time we're going to talk about being an expansion team. Our goals are bigger than that.'
"We tried to forget about that whole new-team thing as soon as possible. We are 0-2 but we've been competing so I think it is working. For a new team, the last thing that's going to come is the finish, learning to win and learning to close out games. As long as we stick to it and trust in the process it will all work out in the end."
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