When he was a freshman at Queen’s University, Neil Scilley joined the football team for winter practice. Since he hadn’t been with the team in the fall, Neil—yes, he’s my son—was unfamiliar not only to the veteran players, but to the other rookies as well.
“There were very few, I could probably count them on one hand, who went out of their way to be friendly and inclusive,” he said, on hearing the news of Corey Trudeau’s death last week. “He was one of them.
“A far cry from the guy we were all told to be terrified of playing in Grade 9.”
It was a typical comment about the many-faceted Trudeau, a tremendously gifted athlete, artist, outdoorsman, businessman and family man who died at home Nov. 24 at the age of 35 of complications following an epileptic seizure.
“There’s way more to Corey than would have actually met the eye,” Melody Torcolacci said.
“He was quite the artist. I remember talking to him about eastern mysticism. He refinished a boat. He was quite interesting.”
Torcolacci, the throws coach who mentored Trudeau from Grade 10 through five years of intercollegiate competition, recalled her protégé as “a big little guy, with an endearing smile (and) engaging personality, who was committed to family and, for those who were so fortunate to call him friend, furiously loyal.”
“Corey had a big heart and readily gave of himself. What made Corey so special was his capacity to make those around him better. I know he made me a better coach.”
Among his peers, Trudeau’s athletic legacy is unparalleled. In high school he was a dominant football player, and one of the pre-eminent shot putters and discus throwers in the province. No one in Kingston-area history won more provincial medals—eight—than Trudeau, and no one has ever won as many as the five gold medals he brought home from OFSAA. It didn’t end there. As a senior, he ran the second leg of the 400-metre relay, and the whispers pondering the wisdom of having such a big boy running a speed event dissipated at each step as he helped the team reach the regional meet.
A defensive tackle and long snapper with the Golden Gaels football team, Trudeau was twice a second-team conference all-star, and he helped the team to a Yates Cup appearance in 2002. As a track competitor, he remains the only male athlete in Queen’s history to qualify for a CIS championship in an individual event in each of his five years, and with seven medals he is the most decorated individual-event athlete in team history.
After his university days, Trudeau played pro football briefly with the Toronto Argonauts.
“Corey had a flare for the dramatic,” Torcolacci said, recalling the OFSAA meet in Kingston in 1995. Trudeau was one of the favourites in his discus event, but he faulted on his first two attempts and was in jeopardy of fouling out of the competition.
“I was so nervous I couldn’t watch his third throw,” Torcolacci recalled. “When I didn’t hear a clang off the cage or the official saying, ‘fault,’ I knew he had gotten it in. The only question was whether it was good enough to make the Top 8.
“It was more than good enough; he won OFSAA with that throw.”
Torcolacci met Trudeau in the summer after his Grade 9 track season.
“As soon as I looked at him I just knew he was an athlete and there was something there,” she said, and quickly she discovered that, as far as being coachable, the young man was a sponge.
“You’d tell him something to do, and he would just be able to do it. He had such a good feel for what he was doing; he picked up things really quickly. He listened and he went and tried to do what it was you were conveying, and he worked his butt off.
“That’s what people probably don’t realize. They might think he was all talent, but he was all work ethic, too.”
At one point, Trudeau held every Kingston Area hijgh school boys record in shot put and discuss. A couple of years ago, Brandon Deslauriers, another of Torcolacci’s athletes, was poised to break the senior mark, thanks in no small part to Trudeau’s instruction.
“He used to just swing by practices periodically,” Torcolacci recalled. “Corey was a really gifted teacher. He knew the event so well, and he could convey it very well.”
The day of the county meet, Trudeau was there to watch Deslauriers break his 13-year-old record. “That’s what his character was like,” Torcolacci said. “He was an incredibly positive individual; he was very humble, despite his accomplishments, and he was always really proud when other people came along and succeeded.”
Amid all that, though, what made Trudeau special, she said, was “that big grin of his.”
“He didn’t take himself seriously. He was really easy to laugh at himself.”
That sense of humour is one of the things that stands out for Rick Landon, Trudeau’s high school football coach at Bayridge, who recalled that Corey was so advanced for his age, he bypassed his final year of junior eligibility to move up to the senior team.
“He was certainly in a league of his own,” Landon said. “You could see there was a tremendous amount of athletic ability there. He stood out in senior when he was still a junior.
“Corey was all business on the football field (but) he was gentleman and a pussycat off the field. He was a jokester, and somebody you wanted to be around.”
Landon told a story of a group of senior players, led by Trudeau, who simply didn’t want to leave the football room once the day was done.
“The practice or game would be over, but a group of them would stay and talk about it for hours afterward,” Landon said. “They would order pizzas and have them delivered to the side door, but they wouldn’t leave the pizza boxes in the garbage, because then the janitors would know, so Corey stored them up in the drop ceiling.
“After one game late in the season, I’m giving a little post-game speech and all of a sudden all these pizza boxes come tumbling down on my head.”
The classic story, Landon said, involved an upcoming game at Bayridge against Holy Cross, the team for which his nephew, Jon, was playing.
“I had heard through the family grapevine that Jonathan and some of the Holy Cross players might be coming over to sabotage our field,” Landon recalled. “I mentioned this to Corey. He was the captain and the leader. Corey and a couple of other guys got a great big tent and they pitched it in the middle of the field. They had all the food to get them through the night.
“This was late (in the season) so the underground sprinkler system had, thankfully, been drained. At about a quarter to 12 there’s a knock at my door and it’s Corey. ‘Coach, coach, there’s something hissing.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, Corey?’ You could see the field from my house, and he says, ‘Look what’s on the field. We’ve got a tent there to guard it and there’s this hissing sound.’
“So over I go. One of the stakes had gone through the pipe of the underground sprinkler system and the air was rushing out.”
It’s just one of many tales of life with Corey Trudeau that will be oft re-told, Tom Denison believes.
“Everybody’s got a Corey story,” Denison said. “That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Trudeau was in his third year with the Gaels when Denison, the two-time Hec Crighton award-winning quarterback, arrived in the fall of 2001. “It was a different sensation,” said Denison, who transferred and was actually about to begin his third intercollegiate season.
“I didn’t really feel like a freshman, and it wasn’t like the day I got there I was the starting quarterback. There were some difficult days at the beginning and Corey was one of those guys who made you feel like everything was going to be all right. Obviously he was a great football player, he had that calming presence on the field, but there were times when things weren’t always going well, and you looked at him and you just knew everything was going to be OK.”
Denison said his last contact with Trudeau was a couple of weeks ago, a Facebook exchange as Trudeau and some chums from the track team were preparing to travel to South Bend to watch a Notre Dame football game.
“Corey was so excited,” Denison said. “One of (the people on that trip) is a very good friend of mine from back home. I spoke with him when I heard the news and he talked about how great a time they had.”
All of which only serves to heighten the tragedy of his passing. “There aren’t any words for it,” Denison said, recalling how genuine his former teammate was.
“Corey was the same guy everywhere. Whether you saw him around campus or you saw him at football practice or you saw him at a social event, he was always the same. That’s rare. People are rarely so authentic that they don’t change who they are to fit the moment they’re in.
“That’s why everybody liked Corey. You’ll hear so many great things about him from so many people. Anybody you reach out to will have some pretty extreme positive feelings towards Corey. He was a real special guy. There’s a lot of people who are hurting right now.”
Trudeau is survived by his parents, Peter and Marilyn, his sister, Kristin, his wife, Louise, and an infant daughter, Jacqueline. An ecumenical service is being held today (Dec. 2) at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.