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Senior Gaels looking forward to what could be their last home game

November 1, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

It’s been neglected by administrators, condemned by engineers and the notion of hot water in the public facilities lives only in folklore. It is venerable or decrepit; it evokes nostalgic thoughts of antiquity or the kind of disdain associated with decay and obsolescence.

For many people, though, Richardson Stadium holds a special place and for some of them, Saturday’s playoff football game may be the last time they’ll get to experience its charm from the unique perspective of an athlete.

“I’ve probably spent more time at Richardson Stadium in my last five years than I have anywhere else,” Queen’s Golden Gaels safety Justin Baronaitis said the other day.

Baronaitis, completing studies to become an elementary school teacher, is one of several players who have been in the program for five years who could be playing their final home game Saturday. A loss to the Guelph Gryphons will end the Queen’s season; if the Gaels and Western both win their semifinal games, the Yates Cup will be contested next Saturday in London.

If Queen’s wins and McMaster upsets Western, well, there will be one more game at the stadium for these players after all, but the likelihood of that hasn’t been enough to suppress the thought that the fifth-year seniors may be playing there for the last time.

“It’s crept into the back of my mind quite a bit, actually,” Baronaitis said. “Over the last year I guess I knew this would happen at some point so I’m prepared for it (but) it would be sad to see Richardson go. I’ll cherish every moment of this game. It’s one that will have a lasting impression in my mind for years to come.”

Gaels coach Pat Sheahan is a student of history and each year he tries to implore his players to appreciate their place in the storied legacy of Queen’s football.

“When you run out of the tunnel the last time you feel a few things,” Sheahan said. “You are definitely prone to reflection. There’s a lot of things that go through your head.

“It’s a time of passage and yet you’re expected to play your best game.”

John Miniaci gets that now. He didn’t when he arrived at Queen’s in the fall of 2009.

“I was just a wide-eyed rookie,” he said, “and (I remember) the coach always talked to the seniors about it being their last game. Of course, then it never really hit me because I’d think, ‘I’ve got so much time,’ but now, boom, it’s five years later, it’s finally hit, and I’m that senior who that message is directed to.

“I’ve been thinking about it, even before the last regular season game … how fast it came, how quickly your career here comes and goes. Everybody tells you to make the most of it but I’m starting to believe now it’s never really possible to make the most of your experience.”

Miniaci says he feels fortunate to have lots of fond memories of Richardson Stadium, not the least of which come from his freshman year, 2009, when Queen’s hosted — and won — both the Yates Cup and Mitchell Bowl there.

“To be a part of those Richardson legends that have come before, and you’re now part of that … that really makes it that much more special for me,” he said. “People remember the 120-yard return by Jimmy Allin at Richardson Stadium. I was on the field, blocking for that play.

“Crazy memories. I’ve just been cycling through all of those.”

Not always is emotion a helpful variable, especially if it distracts an athlete from the physical requirements of playing the game. Count Miniaci among those who believe that whatever feelings will be kindled by the advent of playing one’s final game at home won’t detract from the Gaels’ performance Saturday.

“It’s not a distraction whatsoever,” he said. “Thinking about it forces you to stay focused on the task at hand and not get caught up in anything else. The possibility of (your career) being over hanging over your head forces you to stay on top of your business, stay sharp during the week, stay sharp during the game. It prevents any kind of outside distractions, like, ‘Hey, we had that feel-good win over Guelph already.’ That gets buried now by, ‘This is your last Richardson game, it could be your last game, period.’

“It’s good motivation to have.”

Offensive lineman Derek Morris, with Miniaci one of two remaining starters from the 2009 national championship team, agreed.

“I’m not worried about it being my last game; I’m excited that it’s the last time that I may get out there and just have fun,” he said.

“If it is the last game at Queen’s, I want to end with people remembering not just me but how the O line played. I want them to talk about how we shut down Guelph’s D line and helped us get to the Yates Cup.”

Napanee’s other contribution to the Gaels, tackle Josh Prinsen, said the notion of last home game hasn’t been overtly discussed. Apparently, though, the Halloween goblins haven’t been the only ones swirling around the practice field.

“You can definitely feel it in practice this week among the fifth-year guys,” he said. “The tempo this week, because it’s the last home game, playoffs, has really picked up. It’s been a better week of practice, at least for the O line.

“A lot of times you might not have a successful outcome depending on what the running back does or what the quarterback does, but we always are very critical of ourselves and if we’re getting our assignments down usually that’s a pretty good indicator that we’re into it mentally.”

Sheahan has one wish for his graduating players.

“I’ve urged them to make sure that when the game is done that it’s an effort they would put their signature on,” he said. “It’s an important thing.”

Baronaitis doubts the emotion of the moment will get in the way of performing well.

“I wouldn’t think so,” he said. “It’s emotional, for sure, (but) we have a group of veteran players with a firm resolve and we’re not letting external factors getting in the way of our game plan.

“Emotion is something that we’ve left at the door and we’re coming in here firmly focused on this being a business trip and taking care of business on Saturday.”

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One Comment
  1. John Mac permalink

    Beauty !

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