(Quebec) One of the first things Blake Nill did after accepting the job at UBC was call an old friend. "I asked Constantine do me a favor," revealed the new coach of the Thunderbirds on Thursday.
Eight months after his appointment as football’s head coach at the University of British Columbia, Nill and his team will play their first game together against the Rouge et Or tomorrow afternoon at Laval University. The confrontation is a precursor to the regular season which starts next week.
"It really is not a favor,” ensures Constantine, despite UBC only winning one playoff game in the last 15 years.
"When we played against Calgary in the Vanier Cup [in 2013], we saw a video of a game against UBC and they had a good team. And they drafted some very good guys. They have good athletes, but I do not know if they are ready to play," says Constantine. "It will not be the third world war," he adds, "but we will play football and improve."
The two friends know each other well as coaches too. Their rivalry dates back to 1999, when the Rouge et Or defeated the Saint Mary's Huskies in the Canadian Championship finale. This will be the 14th duel between the two men.
Nill took over Calgary’s football program in 2006. They have since played the Rouge et Or six times, and have lost three Vanier Cup: 2008 and 2013 against Laval, and 2009 against Queen's.
"Every time we came to play here, we play the best,” says Nill. “This trip is necessary for us. I have to show the players what it's like to work in a championship environment.” Nill believes that his 2015 Thunderbirds are superior to the Dinos he inherited in 2006.
Even more important than the performance on the field is the "whole culture of football at the university there," Nill explains. He thinks he has found the key to success in David Sidoo, a backer of the Thunderbird football program. They are to Vancouver what duo Jacques Tanguay and Glen Constantin are in Quebec.
"One thing is certain, we will not give up. Last year [with Calgary], we beat UBC twice by more than 50 points [67-6 and 59-11]. I remember that in the second game, they gave up. When I arrived, I was very clear with the players: no one here will give up during a game this year.” The regular season starts next Friday at Calgary.
"The formula in Calgary never allowed us to win a national championship. But at UBC, I think I a little something more to beat the top teams like Laval," smiles Blake Nill. He talks about the possibility of recruiting players from across Canada. He now has the resources to post scouts wherever he wants. Pierre Lefebvre will be his pointer in Quebec.
The new star defensive end Rouge et Or Mathieu Betts was even courted by Nill last winter, "just to make Glen [Constantine] sweat," the coach says laughing. Even on the UBC campus, the football program has launched a full promotional campaign to attract people to home games, another expense undertaken by David Sidoo, who invests much time and effort into the endeavor.