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Monday, May. 27, 2019
Cousineau cracks Team Ontario roster for Canada Cup
by Randy Pascal

The summer, at least to this point, has not been a great one for members of the Sudbury Gladiators.

With a handful of teams making the transition over from the OVFL (Ontario Varsity Football League) to the OFC (Ontario Football Conference) in 2018, the competition for the Glads has been ratcheted up a notch or two.

Dealing with a somewhat younger roster than usual, especially at key positions, the local footballers sport a record of 1-4 at the moment, effectively eliminated from the post-season hunt.

And while a number of players are doing a good job of battling through to the bitter end, running back Liam Cousineau, for one, will have a little something extra to look forward to.

The 17 year old St Charles College student leaves later this month for the 2018 Football Canada Cup in Calgary, selected to the Ontario team that will face opponents from Nova Scotia (in game one), either Saskatchewan or Manitoba (in game two), and one of Quebec, New Brunswick, Alberta or British Columbia in their finale, all between July 16th and 22nd.

"I've never even travelled outside of Ontario," said Cousineau. "I want to see how the kids from Alberta, Nova Scotia and Quebec play, compared to how we play in Ontario." Pretty sure none of this was front of mind when the long-time Sudbury resident and eldest of three kids in the family (Cousineau has a twin brother and sister, 13 years of age) first took up the sport back in grade eight.

"Me and my friend, I think it was Eric Atoh, we just started throwing the ball around at recess," said Cousineau. "I was really enjoying myself, catching all of the balls, so I thought maybe I could try this sport. I begged my grandpa to let in play in the Joe MacDonald (Youth Football) League in the fall. In my first game, I scored five touchdowns - that's when I knew I wanted to play football."

Playing catch-up on kids who were JMYFL vets, Cousineau also signed on with the Sudbury Jr Varsity Gladiators. At one point, he realized that both he and talented lineman Austin Hill were the only grade eight students who worked their way into the starting roster.

Overcoming a broken leg that first summer, Cousineau would run the very typical gammut in trying to find his role, inserted at various locations of the field, offense and defense, searching for a comfort zone.

"I've switched positions, playing cornerback, safety, quarterback, but I eventually came back to running back," he said. "I started off as a running back in Joe Mac. To be honest, I might be a decent receiver, but I'm not the best ball catcher. I'm a better ball carrier, it just feels more natural to me."

Within the landscape of Sudbury football, there is at least some awareness of the existence of Team Ontario opportunities that are offered under the guidance of the Ontario Football Alliance, the recognized provincial governing body for the sport.

Typically, at least a small handful of locals will make their way down to tryouts, looking to make their way either to the International Bowl, in Texas, or the Canada Cup event. More recently, we have seen the introduction of the U16 East-West Challenge, designed for athletes in grades eight and nine.

The process can be an intimidating one, to say the least, when you're coming from the north. Cousineau adapted more quickly than most. "It was really surprising," he said. "Once I got there, these football greats from southern Ontario weren't as untouchable as we thought."

"When I started competing with them, I realized they weren't that much better than me." Blessed with above average initial acceleration, Cousineau charted well in the 40 yard dash. The confidence stayed with him through the football drills as well.

"I realized that I was competing well, I was getting longer runs, showcasing my talent. My runs were just as good as the other running backs, maybe better." Despite not picking up a football, in earnest, until his early teenage years, Cousineau appears to have been born with at least some propensity for the game, or perhaps more specifically, his position of choice.

"The instinctive feel is the part of the game that came most quickly to me," he said. "I'm able to see the field from a whole other perspective when I am playing running back. When I get the ball in my hands, and before I'm making cuts, it feels like the game is slowing down. But I still have lots to work on, reading the best hole where to cut and when to cut."

Like most young running backs, especially those with some degree of speed, Cousineau had to gradually adapt his game, realizing that simply cutting to the outside and trying to beat every defender to the end zone was not about to work as he battled his way up the football food chain.

"Once I graduated from Joe Mac and started going to the gym, I realized that I like contact. I like to make contact, some times," he said. "I prefer running within the tackles, as opposed to bouncing out. I used to be like that, but I had to change my mentality."

And while he is pleased with his progress to date, thankful for the opportunity to showcase his abilities with the scouting assembly that is sure to make their way to Calgary, Cousineau has also been knocked down, a few times, in recent months, understanding better now just how much work still lies ahead.

Part of that has been a bi-product of the Gladiators' on-field efforts, where the running back is clearly not enjoying anywhere near the statistical success he registered last summer as a member of the Jr Glads.

But even his coveted speed needs work. Entered in the 100m dash at the city championships in May, Cousineau posted a time of 12.57 seconds, ranking 13th in a field of 24 and more than half a second off the standard needed to qualify for the finals in Sudbury.

"I realized when I was running track, my football speed is there, my initial acceleration is there, but my longer speed isn't there," he said. "Speed is such an important part of the game, that ability to break free."

Thankfully, Cousineau has not shied away from finding ways to develop his talent. "I train with my friends, but I've mostly been the motivator," he said. "I work out with one of my boxing friends, do footwork at Lasalle with one of my teammates, go to the gym with another of my friends."

And when he needs a little advice from someone who has walked in his shoes, he need not look very far. "Our head coach, Aaron Rehel, has been the most influential for me," said Cousineau. "Of all the coaches that I've had, he's had one of the highest football IQ's that I've seen. He's also played the running back position."

Cousineau would love nothing more than to at least have the chance to step on the field for a university football practice, just as his coach did at the University of Ottawa, or as former St Benedict running back Christian Battistelli did with the Carleton Ravens.

A good showing at the Canada Cup would go a long way in making this happen.

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