Chance for a championship
Brandon Deschamps knows this could be his last football game.
More than anything, the 23-year-old star UBC Thunderbirds running back from Prince George wants to go out a winner and end his five-year university football career on a high.
He's already carried the T-birds far deeper into the CIS playoffs than anyone could have possibly imagined. Today in Quebec City, UBC will play the defending-champion Montreal Carabins for the Vanier Cup national championship to try to cap off an amazing turnaround season.
Deschamps has been an essential part of that title drive. Last week in a 36-9 triumph over the St. Francis Xavier X-men at the Uteck Bowl CIS semifinal in Antigonish, N.S., he led the T-birds with 128 yards and a touchdown and was voted the game MVP.
The Kelly Road secondary school graduate, now a philosophy major at UBC, knows his team has defied the odds, steamrolling its way to a 9-2 record after a dismal 2-6 season in 2014, and he sees no reason why the Thunderbirds can't keep that winning feeling intact today in front of a national TV audience.
"It's a very special experience, especially for me, going into my last year - not many people know it will be their last game unless their season is going poorly, or it's playoffs and there's still that uncertainty," said Deschamps.
"It's the game I've built my life trying to get to and something you dream about every off-season, so it's very exciting in that sense. But you still need to keep your head level and keep your focus to be successful."
That approach has worked well for Deschamps throughout his university career.
While his CIS career will end today, he's already been through a pro camp and was one of the final cuts of the B.C. Lions this season. There's no reason to think he won't earn another opportunity to ply his trade in the CFL next season.
"I've been trying not to worry about that, I'll worry about that after the season," he said. "The best thing I can do right now is not look past this game and not think about anything else other than Montreal right now.
"I'm just trying to get a win for my team. I have no idea of my ability to go pro."
The T-birds are going after their fourth Vanier Cup title, having last won it in 1997. They were also crowned champions in 1982 and 1986.
Blake Nill took over the UBC coaching reins after eight successful seasons with the Calgary Dinos and his influence has been key in the UBC revival.
The T-birds started the Canada West Conference playoffs Oct. 31 with a 24-10 win over Manitoba, then beat undefeated Calgary 36-24 two weeks ago for the Hardy Cup to qualify for the Uteck Bowl.
"Coach Nill says it himself, sometimes we defy logic but there are some things we have going for us," said Deschamps.
"We have a core group of veteran guys who really bought into the competition that coach Nill brought in and a few more older guys (Nill recruited) who have really done a good job of leading the team and we have a bunch of young guys. The average age on the team is 19 and they've bought in to what we're trying to do."
All season long, Deschamps has been one of the primary cogs in the UBC offence. He led the team in rushing with 613 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, and had six touchdowns in seven games.
"All the credit to the O-line, they've been getting better every week," said Deschamps.
"There was a bunch of turnover throughout the season trying to get the right group of guys and we have a bunch of guys who have never played the position before at the CIS level, some who have never played the position before at any level, and they've been doing a good job opening holes for me and that's a huge part of my success."
Rookie UBC quarterback Michael O'Conner has also been a standout since the 19-year-old joined the team after one season in the NCAA at Penn State. O'Conner threw for 2,383 yards in eight regular season games and had 13 TD passes.
Deschamps has seen the Carabins' game films and he's hoping they won't offer too many surprises when he lines up to run the ball today.
"The thing that jumps out on the defence is the front, they send a bunch of different blitzes that can be confusing to pick up if you don't know where it's happening and their secondary makes plays," he said.
"They're always around the ball and they break hard on everything that's thrown so we know our receivers have to make the best of catches and we have to be crisp in our blitz pickup if we want to keep Mike up so he can get the ball off."
It's believed Deschamps is the only Prince George-born-and-raised player ever to make it to the Vanier Cup and he wears his pride for his city on his sleeve.
"I've been talking to a couple of people about it and every game day I think about Prince George and the guys I played with and the teams I was on and I always think back to where I started and where I got to," he said.
"I know there's not a lot of publicity about football, especially from Prince George or guys playing who are from Prince George. I know there are going to be a bunch of people who look up to me, especially young kids playing the game in the same places I was. So I always think about them and I try to play my hardest to make them proud and try to make the city proud to know I was one of the athletes who came from there. That's always heavy on my heart whenever I play game."
The game starts at 10 a.m. PT, broadcast live on Sportsnet.
(Photo: Prince George's Brandon Deschamps, surrounded by his UBC Thunderbirds teammates, hoists the Uteck Bowl after the Thunderbirds beat the St. Francis Xavier X-men 36-9 last Saturday in Antigonish, N.S. The win qualified the T-birds for the Vanier Cup national championship game, which happens today in Quebec City. )
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