Gladiators close the books on summer of 2018
by Randy Pascal
Coaches and players alike looked back on the summer that was as the Sudbury Gladiators hosted their year-end banquet for both of their OFC
(Ontario Football Conference) teams Thursday evening at Curl Sudbury.
For varsity head coach Aaron Rehel, it marked the end of his tenure, already having made a decision to step away from the coaching ranks. Still,
the former Ottawa Gee Gees running back is emphatic regarding the need to keep the summer youth football program alive in Sudbury.
"The list is long in terms of kids that the program has touched," said Rehel. "The game, itself, has given a lot of kids motivation, in school, with
life. It has helped a lot of kids bond together who might not have otherwise ever even know each other. I think that's why it's important."
With almost a decade of service time with the Glads, beginning back as a running back coach under the regime of head coach Brent Richer, Rehel is
confident that local talent can more than hold its own while facing some of the best teams in the province.
"When I started, I got a chance to see the OFC level at that time," he said. "I saw it grow, I saw it get smaller, and now grow again, such that there
are 19 centers just at the varsity level alone. Every year, from when I started to now, Sudbury has always been competitive. That's one of the greatest
things I have seen."
In fact, the 2018 edition of the squad ran off a three game winning streak to close out their campaign with a .500 record (4-4), not at all shocking to
defensive end and St Benedict Catholic Secondary School graduate Mike Andlar.
"I feel that we had a better group this year than we had any year I was here," said the 18 year-old recipient of the Defensive Player of the Year
award, looking forward to kicking off post-secondary studies in September in Windsor at St Clair College.
"Beating the teams that we did, teams that we haven't beaten before, proved it. It showed how well we work together when we wanted to. We were all
getting along with each other, it was more of a family this year."
A linebacker during his early days of high school football, Andlar has no problem with a little shifting around to take advantage of his natural skill
set. "It was really good at defensive end," he said. "I liked it, because they based the defense around me, moving me out farther from the line of
scrimmage - and then having only one job, just going for the quarterback."
With Andlar typically on one side and Collège Notre-Dame graduate Andy N'Gako coming at it from the other, the Sudbury defense was fully
capable of causing chaos in opposing backfields, even if communication, at times, was an issue.
"Andy is a real character, a lot of fun," said Andlar. "He speaks french to me and I have no idea what he's saying. Sometimes when he speaks English, I
have no idea what he's saying."
The varsity Gladiators see no less than 15 players aging out, including veteran offensive lineman Riley Noland, who explained the mindset that is
needed to persevere and thrive in the trenches.
"For us this year, and for a lot of the guys that I have played with on the line, it's a job with not very much thanks," said the 19 year old who captured
Gladiator of the Year accolades yesterday.
"At the end of the day, we know, and guys that have played that position know that in order for a team to be successful, a well-oiled offensive line is
needed, and can really help lead a team."
As Noland moves on from Confederation Secondary to Cambrian College in a month or so, he does so knowing that he leaves the Gladiators a
much different football player than when he arrived.
"I think, for me, I played with a lot of emotion when I was younger," he said. "Throughout my years, I've been able to channel it and use it to my
advantage, instead of just going out there just to hit someone."
Coach J.J. McKnight and the Junior Varsity Gladiators endured an even tougher year than their elder clubmates. With the likes of the
Oshawa Hawkeyes, Etobicoke Eagles and Scarborough Thunder moving to the OFC this year, the Sudbury lads finished with a record of 1-7.
"The positions that we were good at, our standout players, were as good as they have been in any other year," said McKnight. "But from that tier to
the next, and then the next below, was a pretty significant drop-off."
"We had some guys who weren't quite ready and they got pressed into service a little earlier than we would have liked. And then with the new teams
coming in, they've been doing this for a long time at a high level, so any little crack in the armour, it gets exploited."
"Once we got stuck in the quicksand, a little bit, we had a hard time getting out. We ended up digging ourselves deeper." Despite all of this, McKnight
had no issue in finding light at the end of the tunnel.
"There's no substitute to actually playing football, if you want to get better at football," he said. "We had a young team this year. We have a little
over half of our guys coming back. Those guys are more ready to be competitive and excel than they were at the start of the year."
Through it all, the players forged ahead, understanding that there is payoff that lies in the effort alone. "You're not going to be able to win every
game, you're not going to win every battle, but you still have to fight hard," said JV Lineman of the Year Ravyn Mendonca.
"We didn't just give up, we didn't just roll over and let them run up points on us. We kept fighting until the fourth quarter was over." Over on the
offensive side of the ball, Offensive Player of the Year Tyler Bell could focus on several positive takeaways, even as he moved from receiver
to running back and even quarterback at various stages of the summer.
"I am kind of surprised at how I did, throughout the year," noted the 16 year old grade 11 student at Lively District Secondary School. "I did a
lot better than I thought I would, especially at quarterback position. When you're in the pocket, you have no time. It just collapses on you right away.
That, I found, was the hardest part."
"The experience of playing bigger teams, playing people from out of town that I don't know how they play, that helped." As for the upcoming SDSSAA
campaign, as he joins a Lively Hawks team looking to defend their city title, Bell will offer coach Reg Bonin some added flexibility.
"I like to be on the offense, helping the team get points and such," he said. "I think maybe receiver, at the senior level, because I'm not as big as
some of the running backs, as big as you need to be at running back."
Following is a complete breakdown of all Gladiator Award winners:
Team MVP - Nicholas Rideout
Defensive Player of the Year - Mike Andlar
Offensive Player of the Year - Adam Rocha
Lineman of the Year - Kyler Showell
Special Team Player of the Year - Nicholas Rideout
Gladiator of the Year - Riley Noland
Junior Varsity Gladiators
Team MVP - Cole Kennedy
Defensive Player of the Year - Kacey Thompson
Offensive Player of the Year - Tyler Bell
Lineman of the Year - Ravyn Mendonca
Special Team Player of the Year - Alex McNabb
Gladiator of the Year - Ben Cacciotti