Assistant Sports Editor
For nine Marauders, Friday’s Vanier Cup game against Laval at Vancouver’s BC Place will be their last chance to don the Maroon and Grey on the football field.
Of that group, most will be playing in their last game of competitive football; a culmination of years dedicated to hard work and commitment to the sport.
The lucky ones – those with a future on the gridiron – will use this game to showcase their skill sets, discipline and talent that have helped McMaster become one of the most exciting teams to watch in the entire country this year.
They’ll have a chance to play one more game for Mac thanks to a Nov. 18 win over the Acadia Axemen.
“I’m really proud of our coaches and players,” said coach Stefan Ptaszek. “The stakes were higher than they’ve ever been now we have a shot at our first national title in over 40 years.”
Ptaszek continued by attributing the Marauders’ playoff results to the play of its veteran players.
“There were tons of distractions, chartered flights, hotel food, and national media attention,” the coach commented. “As much as the stakes changed and the surroundings changed, being focused and mature about all the hoopla is a result of the leadership and veteran presence in our locker room.”
Among those nine veteran players is receiver Matt Peressini, who led the team in receiving touchdowns, scoring eight of the Marauders’ 21 in the regular season.
“When I came back for my senior year, I knew I would be able to contribute to the offence. I attribute that to my connection with Kyle (Quinlan),” said Peressini.
The veteran receiver also took time to give a shout out to OUA Most Valuable Offensive Player Michael Dicroce.
“When you’re playing with the best receiver in the province, you’re going to get opportunities,” Peressini added. “That was a factor as well.”
After a successful season in every sense for Peressini and his squad, the receiver will get to fulfill a childhood dream to cap off 2011.
“It is an unbelievable feeling. I’ve been here for a long time and the reality is a lot of guys were never able to win the big one in their careers for this school,” said Peressini of the opportunity presented to him and his teammates.
That opportunity has been on Peressini’s mind for a long time.
“It’s huge. Its what I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid: wanting to play university football and playing the biggest game at this level,” said the veteran receiver.
Surprisingly, most of the seniors do not dread their last 60 minutes on the football field. Rather they seem to embrace every second of preparation both physically and mentally to leave it all between the lines on Nov. 25.
Whether it is the end of a five-year career or just the prologue to a new one, the Vanier Cup is a national spectacle the likes of which most football players in this country never have the privilege to experience.
Senior linebacker Ryan Chmielewski, the heart and soul of the Marauders’ ferocious defence, seems more than prepared to handle any test thrown his way.
“We just have to keep doing what we have been doing in order to have success against Laval,” he said.
When asked how McMaster’s seniors are approaching their last game, Chmielewski made sure to emphasize the eagerness of his team to get out onto the playing field and compete for a national championship.
“To be honest, we cannot wait to play in this game,” said the veteran linebacker of the looming Vanier Cup match up.
The senior’s reaction is slightly surprising, as most would assume that the last game of a playing career would bring with it a touch of the bittersweet.
Instead, Peressini and Chmielewski both seem more than happy to face the conclusion of their Marauder careers.
Their last game at Ron Joyce has been played, post-game celebrations at the Phoenix will soon be a fond memory, and the CFL may come calling for their services.
While time will take them from McMaster, the Marauder veterans insist that their team and the school that it represents will always have a place in their hearts.
“I would love to play football after this,” said Chmielewski. “After we win this game, I may look into playing at another level and seeing who’s interested. But for now, I’m focused on this game and bringing the Vanier Cup back to McMaster. It’s where our heart is.”
Ptaszek believes that the success of this senior group is the result of an attitude that has veterans asking more of themselves.
“The guys are looking at the question, ‘what has the program done for me?’ and responding by asking themselves what they can do for the program,” said Ptaszek.