By CLAUDE SCILLEY
With the receiving cupboard starting to look a little bare, the Queen’s Golden Gaels went shopping this recruiting season for people who could catch the football.
It seems they were successful. Fully one-third of the young men who formally signed their letters of intent Monday to attend Queen’s hope one day to do that for the Gaels.
“That was goal No. 1, to rebuild the receiving corps,” Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said, “not only with some talent, but with some depth.”
With the graduation of conference all-star Alex Carroll, Queen’s has now said good-bye to a group that three years ago was formidable, indeed. Giovanni Aprile and Scott Macdonell last year played in the Canadian Football League; Justin Chapdelaine and Aaron Gazendam were also important contributors who helped to give the Gaels one of the best group of pass-catchers, top to bottom, in the land when they went to the Yates Cup final in 2013.
“We’ve exported quite a bit of talent over the last two seasons,” Sheahan said. “We lost a lot of quality, a lot of leadership there.
“It’s time to reload; get another good group of kids in here.”
Jeremy Pendergast, of Kingston, and Chris Osei Kusi, of Brampton are among a group that had Sheahan delighted yesterday, as he mugged for photos with incoming freshmen and proud parents.
Pendergast, son of former Gaels quarterback Tim Pendergast and brother of current Gael Matt, was described by Sheahan as the best of the local crop of graduating high school players. Successfully recruiting Osei Kusi, whose football lineage traces to Western—where his brother, Ricky, was an all-star defensive end—is something Sheahan said he regards as a bit of a coup.
“He’s a cut above,” Sheahan said.
The other receivers introduced yesterday in the Alumni Lounge at the Athletics and Recreation Centre are Connor McQuilkin, younger brother of current Gaels linebacker Luke McQuilkin; Marco Aref of Ancaster and Louis Christophe Hebert of Quebec City.
Aref and McQuilkin both played for Team Ontario at national championship tournaments; Hebert represents another feather in the Queen’s recruiting hat because, as Sheahan noted, “there’s another good football team (in Quebec City).”
In addition to the five receivers, yesterday’s group comprises two linebackers, four defensive backs, two running backs, a fullback and a quarterback.
Nine players unveiled yesterday—Osei Kusi, Pendergast, McQuilkin, Hebert, Aref, quarterback Kyle Gouveia and fullback Marquis Richards of Brampton, defensive back Paul Henning of Waterloo and linebacker Phil Stratton of Port Colborne—were among 12 recruits introduced to alumni and supporters at a banquet in Toronto in February.
The other players at yesterday’s ceremony are:
• Linebacker Philippe Archambault of Montreal;
• Defensive back Ejaz Causer of Mississauga;
• Halfback Cole Haggar of Manotick, whose father, Richard, was a member of the Gaels in the middle 1980s;
• Zackary Kealy of Almonte, who comes to Queen’s as a defensive back but was a player who rushed for a game-best 169 yards in the EOSSAA double-A final against Sydenham last fall;
• Running back Jake Puskas of Thunder Bay;
• Running back Kyle Woods of Kitchener.
Sheahan’s son Ryan, the team’s offensive co-ordinator, was on the coaching staff of the Ontario team that won the gold medal at the Canada Cup under-18 tournament in Saskatchewan last year, and another proud father said rapport developed there helped to convince four of those players—Aref, Osei Kusi, Gouveia and Richards—to come to Queen’s.
McQuilkin and Henning were provincial team members in 2013.
“We still needed to put the finishing touches on the secondary,” Sheahan said, “to get a group that’s going to gel over the next three or four years, and we think we’ve done that.
“We’ve also added some good, solid linebacking kids, too. You never have enough of those guys, and we felt that we needed some depth at that position, also.”
Linemen were conspicuous by their absence, but Sheahan said there will be another unveiling sometime in April when it might be necessary to place a more robust order for lunch.
“It wasn’t a great year for big, big guys for us this year,” he said. “Obviously, that’s going to be a priority over the next two seasons, to reload the big guys. Fortunately our nucleus of (returning) big guys is not bad.”
Rather than being a concern, Sheahan said he’s learned there’s a cyclical nature that seems endemic to recruiting football players to Queen’s. “In 32 years of doing this at three different institutions, (I’ve learned) here we have to look at recruiting as a two-year phenomenon. It’s not necessarily the product of one recruiting class that bears the fruit. You have to look at two years, because to get the balance among all the positions, oftentimes it takes two years.
“You don’t always have five or six big guys in every class. Some years it is receivers and DBs that you can get, so you get those when you can.”
Collectively, Sheahan seemed pleased with what he described as “a nice, young group.”
“If you combine this group with what we got last year, it’s a pretty formidable recruiting group,” he said. “(Among) our freshmen and sophomores, there’s a lot of talent there.”