Locals gear up for Vanier Cup
Harry McMaster’s university career will end with a flourish.
On Saturday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, the 23-year-old Niagara Falls native and his University of Western Ontario Mustangs teammates will battle the defending champion Laval Rouge et Or for the Vanier Cup.
“It’s going to be awesome,” the Saint Paul graduate said. “I have a lot of family coming and I think my parents bought something like 50 tickets.
“It’s going to be great having that many people to watch me play football.”
Unbeaten Western comes into the Vanier Cup on a major roll, averaging 48.3 points per game and outscoring its opponents 222-47 in the playoffs.
“I’m not sure what to expect,” McMaster said. “It will probably be the biggest crowd we’ve ever had but we’ve been in big games before.”
Wester has played in three straight Yates Cups (Ontario championships) and just finished thumping Acadia in the Uteck Bowl.
“We should be prepared,” the 6-foot-1, 189-pound receiver said.
The geography major had five catches for 135 yards in the Uteck Bowl and has 45 catches for 895 yards on the season
“We spread the ball around pretty evenly and all the receivers are important, but being the oldest receiver, I am kind of the leader of the corps,” McMaster said.
He’s as much teacher as leader.
“I try to accelerate their progression,” he said, “We have a few freshmen dressing and it’s just showing them the little things to get open, get blocks and get where they need to be.”
McMaster’s game has evolved dramatically since he first arrived at Western.
“It has been a long road since first year and I tell people that I wish I could see myself in my first year of practice. I am a completely different player,” he said. “I’m definitely stronger, I am more physical on my routes and I have better technique, especially blocking.”
McMaster didn’t play his first two years at Western before he earned playing time for the first time in 2015.
“I kind of knew going into Western that no one expects to play first year and I had a long way to go in improving from what I did in high school,” he said. “There was pressure from people back home who have a high opinion of you as a football player and all of them expect you to play and do well.
“It was toughest hearing from them.”
McMaster’s final season was his best and he was named an Ontario University Athletics Second Team All-Star.
“I kept that in mind as one of the goals for this year and it was nice to get that,” he said.
Like McMaster, 21-year-old St. Catharines native Antonio Valvano didn’t play his first two years at Western and is now in his second year of football eligibility at Western.
He dressed in the first four games last year and has dressed for every game this season. He plays out of the fullback position and takes about 30-40 per cent of the snaps at the position. So far this season, he has caught five passes for 59 yards.
“I’m more of a blocker right now and I like to think I can catch some passes too,” he said. “Right now, I’m mainly throwing the body around out there.”
He has loved being a bigger part of the team this season.
“It has been an amazing year all around and it’s an experience like no other,” Valvano said. “I’m kind of just starting my career.”
The six-foot, 230 pounder feels he has made a lot of strides in his game since joining Western.
“I understand what’s going on more,” he said. “It’s a big jump from high school to university and it took me a couple of years to figure out what is happening in front of me and the offence and stuff.
“Now it’s all starting to come together and I am getting better every year.”
One area the criminology major didn’t need a ton of help was in strength and fitness. He spends his summers helping out in his family’s masonry business.
“It gets me in pretty good shape and I come in ready for training camp,” the former St. Francis standout said. “I’ve cut down some unneeded weight and it has helped me move around better out here.”
Like McMaster, he’s excited to play in his first Vanier Cup so close to home.
“I have tons of family coming, my mom and dad bought a bunch of tickets, and I have been telling friends I need them to come out so we can have the biggest crowd we can get.”
He’s looking forward to the entire experience.
“When we step on the field for the first time and see all the fans, I am going to take it all in for that one quick second,” he said, “It’s a good accomplishment and we are going to go get that win.”
Other locals on the Western roster are: Lakeshore Catholic alumnus Cole Majoros, a five-foot-9 receiver from Fort Erie; Grimsby native and Cardinal Newman product Marshall Cino, a 6-foot-5, 267-pound offensive lineman; Sir Winston Churchill product Eli Sacco, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound linebacker; and, A.N. Myer grad Jake Andrews, a 5-foot-10, 178-pound defensive back from Niagara-on-the-Lake.