VANCOUVER — Playing university football in a country with five times zones is a daunting task, especially when the biggest game of your season happens to be taking place in Nova Scotia and you’re based in Vancouver.
Tuesday afternoon, the UBC Thunderbirds football team embarked on a journey which will see them land in Halifax for Saturday’s CIS national semifinal Uteck Bowl (1 p.m., Sportsnet 360) against the Atlantic champion St. Francis Xavier X-Men.
Through bus rides, connecting flights and more bus rides, the ‘Birds won’t be pulling into their team hotel until somewhere around 6 a.m. Atlantic time Wednesday.
And because the following weekend’s Vanier Cup national final is being played in Quebec City, eliminating the practicality of a return trip to Vancouver should they beat the X-Men (7-3), UBC (8-2) has had to pack with the thought that if things go there way, they would remain on the road, with a return to Vancouver not coming until Nov. 29.
That’s a potential 12 sleeps away from the Point Grey campus, and as head coach Blake Nill said Tuesday, making sure his student-athletes are still students first, has been essential in the pre-trip preparation.
“This is the second time I’ve had the potential of Halifax to Quebec City, the exact same routine,” said Nill, whose former team at the University of Calgary had the challenge of an extended eastern stay through the 2009 playoffs. “That year we were out of school for four of 15 days over three weeks and we had a lot of work to do to keep our program together.”
Through all of the success Nill has brought to the program, he has never wavered from a desire to keep his players immersed in an academic setting, and to that end, he was able to convince the former ‘Birds player David Sidoo, the director of the program’s 13th Man Foundation, that an academic centre was essential towards injecting vitality into the lives of its players as student-athletes.
“I told him, we need to have an academic program and a place for our players to get help if they need it,” said Nill of the new $1.1 million facility adjoining Thunderbird Stadium.
And what UBC the program will do on the road this week as they flash the ‘Birds brand across the country with their third-straight nationally-televised game, is take their academic mentality on the road.
The team’s academic advisor, Sandra Wigg, will accompany the group to proctor the exams which are scheduled to take place over the duration of the trip, as well as monitor study hall sessions.
And make no question about it, the Thunderbirds won’t be sitting in their hotel rooms between practice eating cheese puffs and playing video games. At least not the whole time.
Two members of the team’s defensive secondary, in fact, commented Tuesday that they aren’t about to let anything slip in the classroom.
“It’s a tough one,” said Mission’s Kevin Wiens, a history major, of the eastern swing. “I have a mid-term to write that’s due on Friday, and I have a paper due the same day. But they have scheduled a lot of study time for us on the road.”
Adds Dominique Termansen, a North Vancouver-Carson Graham grad and kinesiology major: “I have six textbooks in my bag that I am taking. It feels like they weigh about 50 pounds.”
Photo:UBC players, including Kevin Wiens (3) make their traditional pre-game walk from their dressing room to the field at Thunderbird Stadium, passing in front of the school’s new, $1.1 million football academic learning centre. Photo - Bob Frid, UBC athletics)