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Daniel Heslop keeps one eye on the ball, the other on med school

September 13, 2013


He’s a thoughtful young man and you can tell that even after two years away from the game, Daniel Heslop is still passionate about playing football.

If you want to discuss a subject that really excites him, however, ask him how his schoolwork is going.

“My classes are great,” he said after practising with the Queen’s Golden Gaels Thursday night. “I had my first anatomy lab today.

“We got to (work) with cadavers. It was a great lab.”

This is someone who discusses his football statistics modestly — “statistically, I’ve been getting better” says the fellow in his first season with the Gaels — but who proudly shares his recent score in the Medical College Admission Test: 34 (out of 45), which isn’t shabby when you consider the average score of the almost 90,000 people who took the test in 2012 was 25.2.

Heslop’s path to Queen’s was a circuitous one.

“I knew all about him five years ago,” coach Pat Sheahan said, recalling Heslop’s graduating year from high school as an anomaly in provincial football, insofar as Ontario, usually easy pickings for the Quebec team, walloped Quebec 35-0 in a game that spring at the Rogers Centre. The key runner for Ontario that day was a fellow named Daniel Heslop.

Not unlike most talented young players, Heslop was focused on a potential career south of the border and he had a scholarship opportunity at Savannah State University in Georgia. “He’s a very bright guy,” Sheahan said.

“We made casual contact at that point but he had goals that were taking him to places other than Queen’s.”

Heslop played for the Tigers as a freshman but by his third year he was still second string, at best. “Like many Canadian kids who go down there they find out that football, especially in the south, is a different world,” Sheahan said. “Players are numerous and available.”

Football was not working out for Heslop, but he was determined not to let that interfere with his schooling. “The team wasn’t doing too well,” he said, “and, personally, I knew what I wanted to get out of football. It was more important for me to take care of my academics. I knew medicine was what I wanted to do and football was only going to last so long. I also knew that there was the possibility of me playing again after I graduated so I wanted to take care of my school first, and leave some eligibility.”

So he quit the team — and the game.

“I went cold turkey,” he said. “I didn’t watch any football, didn’t play any touch football, stayed away from football for two years.”

On the verge of graduating in May with a degree in mathematics, Heslop called Sheahan last winter, wondering if the coach remembered who he was. “I certainly do,” Sheahan recalled saying.

“Is this a business call or a social call?”

Heslop told Sheahan he was interested in a career in medicine and was looking for a school where he could combine that with the opportunity to play football again. “This was music to my ears,” Sheahan said.

Because of their medical schools — and because of their tradition of success on the football field, Heslop admitted — McMaster and Western were also in his sights, but he said Thursday Queen’s was his first choice all along because he remembered that casual contact with Sheahan five years ago. “He seemed like an all-around nice guy, a good coach, somebody you’d want to play for.”

Queen’s has a history of football players studying medicine while they play — Cal Connor, Jim Rutka, Bernie McDonald, Jeff Yach and Andrew Pepin, to name a few. It is not, however, renowned as the easiest university into which to transfer but Heslop’s academic portfolio was impeccable: An A-minus average in a highly respectable course of study.

By now Sheahan was really intrigued. “He was absolutely not interested in just coming to play football for a semester,” he recalled. “He said the academics was absolutely essential.”

Having sat out for two years while he completed his program in Georgia, Heslop was eligible to play immediately but when he arrived in Kingston he discovered there were two superb running backs already here — Ryan Granberg, the all-Canadian, and Jesse Andrews, the eager understudy who had never rushed for less than 100 yards in any intercollegiate game he’d started.

The potential for animosity was not lost on Sheahan. “We had a chat about that,” the coach said.

“Of course the name Shomari Williams was brought up,” said Sheahan of the prodigal Canadian who came to Queen’s in 2009 after three seasons in the NCAA, found a home on the defensive line for one season and landed in the CFL the year after he helped the Gaels win the national championship.

“The greatest thing about Shomari Williams was he came here to be a team guy, he came here to help, he came here to win. He didn’t come here to tell everybody how good he was. He didn’t come here to tell his teammates they weren’t Division 1 athletes. He just came here to play and have fun. Daniel’s conducted himself like that.

“He’s very good with the young ones,” Sheahan continued. “One of the things I pointed out he could do was impart some of his knowledge and experience to them and in doing so there was immediate acceptance.”

Heslop said he wasn’t aware of the Gaels’ large cast of returning running backs. It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway, he says.

“It wasn’t about starting or being the No. 1 guy,” he said. “It was just about me contributing, using my athletic ability to help this team get to where it wants to get.”

Nightly competition among the three in practice is fierce, which Sheahan predicts ultimately will make them all better. The problem, he lamented in a familiar refrain, is a simple one: “There’s only one football.”

“He would like to have a few more carries,” Sheahan continued, “(but) all the backs are saying the same thing.”

If Heslop is displeased about leaving one program where he was the No. 3 tailback and landing at one where he is, alas, the No. 3 tailback, the coach hasn’t noticed it.

“He’s very impressive the way he conducts himself. He’s very professional,” Sheahan said. “He’s a real student (of the game). He studies it, he makes notes, he asks good questions. Talk about a kid who’s a team guy: He went out and took a role on special teams. Whatever he was asked to do, he went out and learned it and is working hard at it.

“In addition to all the things he wants to accomplish in his life he wants to be a good football player.”

Now pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, taking courses he hopes one day will ease his transition into medical school, Heslop believes he’s on track for doing just that.

“My time away gave me a different set of eyes and I looked at the game differently,” he said. “I was able to assess my game, especially areas where I knew I was weak. I was able to identify them and assess them and get them up to par.

“I worked hard this summer, I trained hard, but I had to get my game legs and I feel like I’m getting better every week. I’m just trying to improve every week, that’s all, but I feel like I’ve adjusted back to the Canadian game, and the speed of things.”

None of which surprises Sheahan.

“He takes care of his business,” the coach said. “He’s an independent thinker, he’s well spoken. He’s bright eyed, he’s studious and he’s on his stuff.

“He’s an impressive young man.”

The Gaels are idle Saturday. They will resume play Saturday, Sept. 21, at Ottawa.

One Comment
  1. John Mac permalink

    Having met this young man and spent some time with him I can readily agree with coach Sheahan’s assessment, as for our other running backs, Granberg and Andrews are outstanding athletes as well as top notch individuals. Queen’s is fortunate, the cupboard is stacked full in that area for sure !

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