A lot can happen in a calendar year. At this time in 2015 the UBC Thunderbirds were celebrating one player being added to a professional roster in the CFL Entry Draft. In 2016 five names will be added to the Thunderbird history books. Five members of the Vanier Cup championship winning squad had their names called by CFL executives Tuesday evening, making them professional football players, and fulfilling dreams they've had since being peewee pig-skinners strapping on helmets and shoulder pads.
"This is a very big moment for UBC football," exclaimed UBC Head Coach Blake Nill. If you want to split hairs, you could say Nill had nine players drafted on this day. You only have to count the four Calgary Dinos selected in the draft who Nill recruited and developed as Dino head coach, before making the move to Point Grey in early 2015.
"It's a very good feeling. It showcases these young student-athletes," adds Nill, who actually spent the day recruiting and planning for the upcoming 2016 season. "It shows the extraordinary guidance theses players get on the field from my assistant coaches and the program implemented by our strength and conditioning coach Joe McCullum is paying dividends."
The culture of respect, discipline and dedication Nill has provided on the field coincides nicely with the robust weight lifting sessions McCullum puts the players through on a daily basis. The players compete with one another in the weight room nearly as much as on the field.
"All the drafted players tested very well at the CFL combine," explains Nill. "That's a credit to all the hard work Joe and his staff have put in."
The phone call a football player receives on draft day is generally a random and exuberant affair. UBC linebacker Terrell Davis could have used a secretary when he was selected 21st overall by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
"All my friends started texting me out of the blue," explains Davis as he and his family prepared for a night of celebration. "When I found out I had been drafted my girlfriend and I started jumping up and down. It was an amazing experience."
For Mitch Barnett (59th overall, Hamilton Tiger-Cats) and Boyd Richardson (65th overall, BC Lions) the excitement caused them to revert to their football instincts. "It's super exciting. I was golfing with Mitchell (Barnett). When we heard we were both drafted, we tackled each other," laughed Richardson, still on the golf course.
"Yeah it got a little aggressive," chuckled Barnett, but added the day wasn't all boisterous fun between teammates. "I was getting a little nervous as it got into the later rounds. Then my agent called me and told me I had been drafted. It was surreal."
Thunderbird defensive back Taylor Loffler, who was the highest selected Thunderbird at 19th overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bomber, seems to be channeling his excitement into motivational techniques.
"I'm super excited to have my name called," says Loffler "It feels great, but the work starts now. I want that starting spot."
UBC kicker Quinn van Gylswyk has a laid back personality in the most stressful moments, such as a winning field goal attempt in the Vanier Cup, and was his usual cool self when he got the news.
"I was just golfing with my Dad and my phone blew up," says van Gylswyk. "It feels great, no it feels awesome. But now I want to finish my round."
Quinn and his UBC teammates will have a couple weeks to get their rounds in, CFL training camps begin the last week of May.