From overwhelmed walk-on to three-time team captain, Steve Dunlop would enjoy a volleyball career with the McMaster Marauders which would feature three trips to nationals, along with a berth on the OUA all-star team.
Now nearly two decades into a career move that would see him call Sudbury home, the 47-year-old native of Barrie has looked to share both his vast sporting knowledge, along with the inspiration of his background, with local youth.
For his was hardly a path to success that started with greatness, right out of the gate.
"The word unorthodox doesn't quite describe how untrained I was coming into this," Dunlop recently reminisced. "It was fortunate that my coach (Regg Miller) recognized something."
The eldest of two boys in the family, Dunlop would eventually top out at a height of 6'6", though the gradual process involved would lead him in a slightly different direction than volleyball, as he donned the high-school uniforms of the Innisdale Invaders in his hometown.
"I didn't grow until grade 10," he said. "I played point guard in basketball and wasn't really inclined for volleyball, until I started to grow. When I was in high-school, basketball was a little more on the forefront - but I loved both sports."
Though both York and Ottawa U had shown interest in the lanky teen hoopster, it was the academic lure of McMaster that would reel Dunlop to Hamilton, the future geologist adamant that he would venture out to varsity tryouts for both the basketball and volleyball teams. "Neither had seen me and I hadn't contacted the coaches," he said, acknowledging an approach that likely would not yield much positive news in today's environment.
"It really surprised me to see what is required now, having to send a video, having to contact the coaches a year or two in advance."
His very first university basketball practice involved almost exclusively running, from start to finish, a physical test that did not play well into Dunlop's wheelhouse. "At that point, I recognized that basketball might not be my sport." Thankfully, the fallback plan is the stuff that dreams are made of.
"The volleyball coach actually called me, that same day. It just so happened there was a spot on the team that was open, where I kind of fit in. This was an extremely skilled team."
OUA champions in 1991-1992, the Marauders would consistently rank among the Ontario elite during the time of Dunlop's tenure at Mac. For as much as he might have started out lagging behind the rest, the father of two very athletic daughters of his own was driven by an environment that stressed excellence.
"There was a small handful of walk-ons, but I will say that I was the lucky one to be selected," said Dunlop. "Nowadays, you would be lucky to be red-shirted as a walk-on. But practicing with really high-end talent, you have to learn pretty quick, or you get eaten up."
For as much as Dunlop is now diametrically opposite, in his approach, to coach Miller, he is quick to note that his growth as an athlete largely stemmed from a setting where kid gloves were never in vogue, very much the type of coach-athlete and athlete to athlete relationships that were extremely common in the era.
"I attribute everything to my coach and my fellow teammates, my friends to this day," said Dunlop. "He (coach Miller) was a very strong personality, and he essentially yelled at me for an entire year straight. There was no coddling coaching. And with my teammates, we would talk a lot of trash to each other, because it spurred us on."
"By playing against the best, and being coached hard, that was almost everything for me."
His university athletics resume in the books, Dunlop would immediately answer the call of the north, pursuing his career as a geologist in Sudbury. "For myself, I feel that I belong in the north," he said. "I don't think you recognize that until you get here. When I moved here, I didn't know a soul."
His transition from player to coach began right off the hop, as too did the approach that he would take in dealing with the athletes under his guidance. "I went the opposite direction as a coach, in many ways," said Dunlop. "Kit (Lefroy) was the Laurentian coach, at the time, and he invited me to come out and practice; I became his assistant coach."
"Kit was the opposite (of coach Miller), sort of a caring grandfather type. He had a heart that was bigger than the city, he treated me so well. I was doing the kind of coaching that just evolved from being an athlete. I wanted to stay in shape, I was already playing, I was almost there more as a player/coach."
By the turn of the millennium, Dunlop would veer in the direction of tackling a junior high-school team, not nearly as easy an undertaking as he might have anticipated. "I found it much more difficult than coaching a higher level, where you can almost relate as an athlete."
"I struggled with that but learned a lot."
With the passing years, marriage and family would open the door to another return to the sport, this one growing increasingly competitive as his oldest daughter (Sami) would make the jump from basketball to volleyball, suiting up with a top-end SDSSAA entry at Lo-Ellen, as well as joining the Northern Chill Volleyball Club.
"I stubbornly wanted to stay old school, I wanted those skills to be sufficient, but you really need to evolve with the sport," Dunlop explained. "I recognized that through coaching, particularly with Sheldon (Root), and you start to see a different approach, both offensively and defensively. I have learned an enormous amount coaching with him and Sherry (Green)."
With Sami leaving for Ottawa University in the fall, Dunlop expects to have even more time to throw into the work he has started to do with her little sister (Sunni) and the Sudbury Jam basketball team on which he assisted Josh Brohart.
And from time to time, he will still venture his way on to the volleyball court at Lockerby Composite, taking part in a Tuesday evening pick-up game. "I try and hide it a little bit, but I am extremely competitive," Dunlop noted with a laugh. "Once I get on the court, I am twenty years old again."
Still very much a walk-on, but with all-star potential to boot.