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Fortuitous encounter helped bring Ryan Granberg to Queen’s

October 5, 2013
CLAUDE SCILLEY Notebook

CLAUDE SCILLEY
Notebook

Little did Pat Sheahan know, when he embarked on a teaching career in Montreal 35 years ago, that one day a seed planted at Loyola High School might one day grow into a record-breaking running back.

“I taught a young man when I was an elementary school phys-ed teacher in Montreal,” Sheahan was saying the other day, “and he ended up teaching Ryan Granberg.”

That was in the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park, Alta.

“This particular young man became quite close to Ryan so when Ryan was considering his options he just kind of threw it out that he was looking at Queen’s. The teacher and confidant spoke up.

“That was an interesting place to start to build a relationship,” Sheahan continued. “There was a connection made there that we followed up on and everything fell into place.”

Saturday against the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, Granberg will try to extend the school rushing record he set last last week at London against the Western Mustangs. The fifth-year tailback passed both Larry Mohr and record-holder Mike Giffin at Western, and now has 3,085 yards in his career.

“It’s kind of a surreal thing,” Granberg said. “People are congratulating me but it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. We’re still in the thick of a football season and my main worry is winning these next three games, getting into playoffs and getting back at Western.”

Granberg, who began the year fourth on Queen’s all-time rushing list, said he had an inkling for a couple of weeks the record was imminent.

“Someone had told me I was a few hundred yards away a few games ago,” he said, “but I didn’t really think about it too much because I was just worried about the games ahead of me. At that time we were sharing carries (among himself, Jesse Andrews and Daniel Heslop) so I just had more of a team mentality.

“The personal accolades have kind of been on the back burner a bit,” he grinned, “but this has perhaps revived one.”

Granberg said it’s too soon for him to put in perspective his place in the storied history of Queen’s football.

“Looking at some of the other running backs who have played here, there’s a long tradition of great players. We have these pictures on the wall at the stadium of previous championship teams from all these different eras. You can tell there’s a lot of history. The Homecoming game this weekend is a reminder of that. There’s been a lot of media, videos of previous homecomings. Bringing that all together is kind of exciting, seeing the long the tradition of good football players.

Granberg was a redshirt freshman in Giffin’s last season at Queen’s. “He was legendary, a guy I looked up to. He was such an amazing running back. He played some CFL. He was an all-Canadian. It seems weird to be on par with that.

“To have broken one of his records, I almost feel like, wow, did I really deserve that? This guy was so good. Maybe my perspective is a little skewed right now.”

Sheahan said he’s delighted to see Granberg achieve the record.

“He’s faced all the situations that a collegiate athlete faces,” the coach said. “He’s had great times, he’s had moments of despair, he’s had injuries. Now he’s emerging at the right time of our season to lead us into the playoffs.”

William Zed says there are many reasons he came to Queen’s: For the schooling — he’s an academic scholarship student in the School of Business — because Kingston reminds him of his hometown, Halifax, in the way it’s a university town — “with a student ghetto” — but not least for its school spirit.

It should be no surprise, then, that the man who almost got the Gaels back into the game at Western last week when he blocked a punt and took it for a touchdown has quite enjoyed what he’s seen this week, as the university prepared to host not only the first fall Homecoming in five years, but the first true Homecoming most of the current generation of students — and football players — has known.

“Walking around campus, there’s quite a buzz,” he said.

He’s looking forward to playing in front of more than 8,000 fans Saturday.

“It’s exciting,” he said, “to get to be a part of it.”

Free tickets were made available to students Wednesday at 6 a.m. By 7:30 p.m. the night before, the queue had begun to form and when those people were kicked out by security staff so they could close the building for the night, they stuck around outside.

By 5:30, when athletics department staff began to arrive to oversee the distribution of tickets, the line extended from the main door, several yards to the sidewalk, and then down Earl Street, beyond Aberdeen to Division.

It didn’t take long for all the tickets to be claimed and the game has been a complete sellout for days, the first in the stadium’s current configuration.

It’s not surprising to Gaels coach Pat Sheahan.

“People care about this football team,” he said. “The great thing about college sport is that when you get these young people out there, giving ’er, for the school colours, for the joy of the game, there’s a lot of people who enjoy seeing that much more than watching pro athletes play for the money.

“There is a tremendous following in the U.S. for college football by fans who have no interest in watching pros. They want to see young men out there playing for the love of the game, for their school spirit and school pride. That’s (the athletes’) motivation to play, and that’s what motivates them to go and watch.”

Concussions caught up with Kingston’s Riley Tripp in his freshman season last year with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks and he’s not on the team’s active roster this year. That doesn’t mean the Holy Cross Secondary School grad has left the program.

Not by a long shot, according to coach Michael Faulds.

“He’s had to step aside from playing but he’s helped us out on the field, almost as a graduate assistant (coach), and still is a very big part of the program,” Faulds said.

Tripp helps run drills in practice, works with the equipment manager, prepares video — “he’s charted plays for me on game day,” Faulds said.

“He’s done almost every task we can ask of him.”

Faulds said he was disappointed not to have the young running back available to play.

“I remember as a recruit he was an unbelievable player,” Faulds said. “I was at York at the time and I remember watching his highlight tape and recruiting him heavily.

“When I got the job here I was excited to see his name on the roster. It’s unfortunate that because of injury he hasn’t been able to play but he’s still very much a big part of our program.”

Western quarterback Will Finch rushed for 114 yards last week in the Mustangs’ 50-13 win over Queen’s. Most of his runs weren’t of the typical quarterback type: Run through daylight and pull the chute at the first sign of contact, or run only as far as you can go before the sideline provides sanctuary.

At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds at the age of 19, Finch is a big kid but the wisdom of exposing himself to that kind of punishment — especially late in games against teams who may have axes to grind with a fellow who’s in the process of beating them soundly — has been questioned.

“In the back of my mind, it’s kind of, ‘I should get down and not take too many hits’ but I want to win,” Finch said. “Sometimes I need to learn to slide better. I’ll try to run a guy over. I shouldn’t be doing that but …

“My coaches tell me, ‘Get down, don’t take a hit.’ I should … but sometimes in the heat of battle you don’t do that.”

Kingston’s Lewis Ward, a Bayridge Secondary School grad, is quietly fashioning a pretty good rookie season with the Ottawa Gee-Gees. He had three field goals last week in Ottawa’s 46-16 win over York, including a season-long 38-yarder.

Nine-for-13 in field-goal attempts, Ward is tied for eighth in Canada in scoring with 48 points.

“He’s really improved during the last month, since the season started,” Gee-Gees coach Jamie Barresi said. “He was struggling during the summer but he’s done very well. I’d like to see him get a little more distance with his kickoffs but he’s better with his percentage with his field goals.”

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