For the better part of his youth in Longueuil (Quebec), Benoit Douillette was pretty much all about box lacrosse. Sure, there was some hockey mixed in, but for the most part, the youngster who represented his province in what was then still the national sport of Canada was most at ease with the webbed stick in his hand.
And pretty much from the time that he and his wife (Joelle) arrived in Sudbury a little over twenty years ago, lacrosse has been his thing, coaching both of his daughters (Arielle and Cloe) and assisting the board of the Greater Sudbury Lacrosse Association for the past decade and a half.
In between his two stints with lacrosse, the friendly but imposing 6’3” francophone presence would carve out a career in football that was accomplished enough to draw the attention of countless Canadian universities, eventually landing the offensive lineman on the CFL draft list.
It’s an interesting tale to be told, and one that carries with it a certain charm as Douillette meanders his way through the memories, sharing thoughts in a language that was clearly not his first. Those who know the man well will truly appreciate the recollections of his start in competitive lacrosse, in and around Montreal.
“I was an attack player, a goal scorer,” explained Douillette, the youngest of two children of the family and a lad who came by his size naturally, with height on both sides of the family tree. “It’s not easy to run the floor, but once you’re there and if you have good hands, you can do magic.”
“I also played the physical part,” he added, in what might be viewed as stating the obvious. “I might go a little slower, but I was going through everything.”
A member of Team Quebec on a pair of occasions, Douillette would travel to France with a squad of 12 year old teammates, facing adult teams overseas in a game of intercrosse, an winter indoor variation of box lacrosse, played with a much softer ball and without body contact, allowing for mixed sex participation.
It was his winter sport of choice.
By the time that he cracked the roster of the CEGEP to Vieux Montreal Spartiates, one of the most storied pre-university football programs in the entire country, it was clear that he must set aside his first love. An unsuccessful tryout with the Whitby Warriors Junior A lacrosse team, one of those pockets of population where the sport still thrives, would sound the death knell on career aspirations in the NLL (National Lacrosse League).
Thankfully, the benefits of not just being another big guy, but rather a big guy with a degree of overall athleticism, were evident from the time Douillette carved out his not at all tiny niche in football. “A cut back in lacrosse and a block as an offensive lineman are pretty similar,” acknowledged the 48 year-old long-time employee of the CSPGNO (Conseil scolaire publique du Grand Nord de l’Ontario).
“You don’t have a stick in your hands, but it’s mostly positioning. I didn’t have the quickest feet, but for a guy my size, I had decent feet.” Decent enough to help lead his CEGEP team to a provincial AAA championship in “le bol d’or” in 1992, opening the door to his time with the Ottawa Gee Gees.
The lessons learned from an inability to pursue football and studies at an even wider array of elite post-secondary institutions has never been lost on the graduate of Leisure Studies (before eventually earning his teaching degree in Sudbury). “Now, I’m a teacher and I understand what it’s like to be one of those kids who likes to play sports but not to do homework,” he said.
That said, there was a silver lining or two in the offing at Ottawa U.
“It turned out to be a pretty amazing decision, because that’s where I met my wife,” said Douillette. “And I played some pretty decent football for the Gee Gees.” Highlights included appearances in both the Churchill Bowl and the Atlantic Bowl, advancing to the Canadian university semi-final games.
While he had seen time on both sides of the line, Douillette excelled as an offensive lineman, something that he saw as a better fit, overall. “I’m not a passive guy, but I’m not a super aggressive guy either,” he said. “I will make sure that my QB makes that beautiful pass and everything goes well.”
Right through until the very end of his football playing days, a couple of summers with the Sudbury Spartans upon his arrival in northern Ontario, Douillette displayed the type of versatility that coaches truly cherish. “I played all three positions: centre, guard and tackle - but my favourite was centre.”
“You are in control of the game, you start each play, you start the fun.”
Even though his football involvement would be shelved, Douillette still had plenty of ways to find fun in his new home. “Joelle, my wife, is a physiotherapist, and she had a job offer in Sudbury,” he recalled. “I fell in love with the city with a lake in the middle right away. I could go fishing any time I wanted to.”
Lacrosse, however, would fully complete the circle. With Russ Farnel breathing life into the sport for the first time in 20 years in or around the turn of the century, until his untimely passing in 2004, Douillette would become fully immersed locally at about the same time that John Grant Sr was picking up where Farnel left off.
“I wanted to give back to the game I love,” said Douillette. “When I started, I had people of all ages that coached me, that looked after me, that taught me the game. That’s what I want to do.”
Working up the ranks with a crew that reached a ranking of #13 in Ontario, he sometimes found it a challenge to leave the player that he was behind as he ventured his way into coaching. “I was quiet, at the beginning, and then my true colours came out,” said Douillette with a laugh. “I’m pretty intense on the bench, like I was intense on the field.”
In a city where lacrosse has struggled to gain on-going traction, most notably in terms of competitive numbers, those who truly support it must find a way to maintain some perspective.
“I really enjoy the coaching; it’s given me a second love of the game,” said Douillette. “I may not have appreciated it as much as a player. It’s a more wholesome experience as a coach.”
In any language of your choice, that is very well said.