By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Nick Romanchuk finds himself in an interesting situation.
By virtue of it being his fifth year with the Queen’s Golden Gaels, it would be incumbent on him to be a leader among the team’s offensive linemen, and Romanchuk is eager to embrace the role. “It’s exciting,” he said. “Being the senior guy I’m trying to do what I can to set an example.”
Goodness knows a line that started five new players a year ago could use some veteran wisdom but the fact, is, Romanchuk has never been a starter, and, thanks to a knee injury that cost him all of the 2014 season, he’s played less than some of the players two or three years his junior.
“It is a little (difficult), when some of the guys have played more than me,” he said, “but you just try to be vocal, try to be encouraging, and when the guys see you out there, working hard, they’re going to follow your lead.
“Last year was a tough year for the guys. We had five new starters (but) it’s great in that they’ve already played a year together, so there’s already a fair bit of chemistry there.”
When Romanchuk takes the field Sunday afternoon in Montreal for the Gaels' exhibition football contest with the Concordia Stingers, it will be his first game in almost two years. A torn tendon in a finger cost the 6-foot-10 tackle part of the 2013 season and then he tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee during the East-West Bowl the following spring.
“May 10,” he said, the date clearly etched in his mind.
“I don’t really know (how it happened). It was just a situation where I went out to block a guy and I heard a pop in my knee and that was it.”
Surgery followed, and the 2014 intercollegiate season was lost.
In the days of practice and testing before that annual showcase game for seniors, Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said Romanchuk had “a very dominating week.”
“When people see somebody that tall, they say, ‘He’s too tall to play football,’ ‘He’ll have no leverage,’ and all the rest of it, but he’s worked very hard. They were impressed with his core strength; for big, long arms he cranked out the bench press 25 times, which got everybody’s attention. His pass (protection) was good, and he was going against some pretty good guys.
“He did a good job.”
Indeed, Romanchuk was so impressive, he earned a starting assignment in the game. He got hurt in the first series.
“Believe me, I was disappointed on so many levels,” Sheahan said. “Going into your senior year with a knee injury, it certainly does cast a shadow on your entire football experience, but to his credit, he battled back. He was out here, helping out, and when he made his decision to give it one more shot, he was happy.
“It’s good to have another experienced guy in the huddle and, you know, if I go to yell at the offensive linemen and I have to strain my neck to look up, that’s a good thing.”
Romanchuk says the knee is fine.
“I’m pretty excited to be out here for another year, with all the guys. I’m ready to play football again, all healthy, feeling good. I’ve made it through five two-a-day (practices) and it’s all good.”
He confessed to being a wee bit apprehensive. “I’d run and I’d worked out,” he said. “The only thing I hadn’t done was contact, so, yeah, I was a little nervous to get back into the contact, but after one or two hits you get used to it again.
“I was definitely rusty when I came back but with two practices every day you get back into the swing of things pretty quickly. Every day, I’ve been focusing on my technique, trying to improve. I don’t feel like I’m too far behind anybody else.”
Sheahan said it’s important to understand the seriousness of the injury from which Romanchuk is trying to recover.
“His knee is sore,” Sheahan said. “We’re all sore, but a big guy like that, his knee is going to be sore, so the thing is to get him through two-a-days, keep him in reasonable shape, and when we get down to one-a-day practices, give him the odd break.
“Nick’s a hard worker, he has a lot of pride, he wants to be a good football player, so fingers crossed on injuries. As long as he gets through training camp, manages it, he’ll have a good year.”
Sheahan said he’s glad to have Romanchuk back.
“Here’s another thing about what happened with his injury: he missed a shining moment in his career,” his coach said. “He was coming back to be the leader on that offensive line, and then he’s not there. That was very difficult, emotionally, psychologically. (People thought) maybe football wasn’t supposed to be in the cards for him, but the football gods have smiled on him and he’s going to get another chance.
“The final game, the final week, the final season comes for us all, but the good news for him is he’s got at least one more. It’s good to have him back.”
It’s good to be back, Romanchuk said.
“I’m just excited to play in a football game again. I’m going to focus on my technique, play as hard as I can, and get some of the experience back that I missed last year.”