UW transfers adjust to Laurier

On June 14, the football players of the University of Waterloo seemed to have their 2010 season ripped away from them. After nine players on the team had tested positive for steroid use, the school made the unprecedented decision to suspend the football program for an entire year, and the over 50 innocent players were left to guess whether or not they would be able to transfer to another school before the opening of training camp on Aug. 19.

Two days after the decision to suspend the program was announced the Warriors received a respite in the news that they would be allowed to transfer, providing their academic credits would translate. A mass exodus of football players from UW began and five players have landed with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.

“Initially, it’s a little weird because we are rivals, but in the end we all love to play football, and everyone should have the right to play the sport that they love,” said receiver Dustin Zender, one of the Warriors-turned-Hawks.

“When it comes down to something like this, you’re not enemies any more… and everyone I’ve met so far has been really welcoming and supportive.”

Joining Zender – who was a provincial all-star in 2008 – will be defensive backs Patrick McGarry, Mitch Nicholson and Cory Allen, as well as defensive end Andrew Heeley. According to Laurier’s head coach and manager of football operations Gary Jeffries, there could be as many as five more former Warriors added to the Hawks’ roster before the opening of training camp.

“There are kids that we’ve committed to and told them that we’d help them if we can,” said Jeffries. “If they do end up transferring, that’s great, but it’s not like we expected them to start with.”

In Zender, McGarry, Nicholson and Heeley, the Hawks have added both talent and experience. Allen comes to the team entering his second-year after being a highly-touted prospect coming out of high school.

The addition of the three defensive backs will serve an immediate need for the purple and gold’s defence as the team lost a pair of key contributors this off-season in corner back Taurean Allen and safety Courtney Stephen. Allen was drafted by the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, while Stephen has transferred to the University of Northern Illinois.

“[The former Warriors] have a great amount of experience and we’ve had some great coaches in the past,” said McGarry.

“Whether it’s starting or playing on special teams, I’m just looking to help this team win games, any way I can.”

The close proximity between Laurier and UW certainly played a role in the players’ decisions. Both Zender and McGarry will be attending WLU as visiting students, taking credits at Laurier to finish their programs at UW, enabling them to still receive a degree from Waterloo.

“On top of the academic aspect, still being able to see my friends, still being able to play in front of my family, was a big reason why I wanted to come to Laurier,” said Zender.

With training camp still a few weeks away, the newest Hawks have only been able to participate in team running workouts. However, that has been enough to get them excited about the upcoming season.

“The chances of winning Vanier are a big reason I came to Laurier and I think we’ve got a great team here,” said McGarry. “This is a team that has a winning mentality, and with the talent that’s coming from Waterloo it’s just really exciting. All I’ve been able to think about is that first game on Sept. 1 against Western.”

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