Webster hoists the 105th Grey Cup

Former Gael recalls journey from injury to winning 27-24 with the Toronto Argonauts

Matt Webster making a tackle at the 105 Grey Cup.
Matt Webster making a tackle at the 105 Grey Cup.
Credit: 
Supplied by Matt Webster

When Matt Webster lifted the Grey Cup at TD Place on Sunday night, his lifelong dream came full circle. 

By Tuesday afternoon, as he celebrated with his Toronto Argonaut teammates in Nathan Phillips Square, his being overcome with emotion had yet to lapse. 

Just hours after the Argonauts rally had come to a close, Webster sounded elated in a phone interview with The Journal.  During the call, he couldn’t help but think back to four years ago — back to a moment which put not only his Grey Cup win in jeopardy, but his football career as well.

***

Webster remembered being in tears. 

Trainers huddled around him, ripping through the fabric of his jersey with a pair of scissors. Teammates stood by his side, concerned. 

It was 2013 and the Queen’s football team were away in Ottawa playing their fourth game of the season. Webster, the Gaels’ starting defensive back, had just picked off a pass. 

“I had to come off the field,” he recalled. 

The crowd noise echoing from the University of Ottawa’s football stadium was phased out; the score of the game, which Queen’s led, became an afterthought. Webster was consumed by what raced through his mind. 

“I knew something bad had happened,” he remembered thinking. “I didn’t know the extent of the damage that was done — but I knew it was enough.” 

As a senior who had his sights set on declaring for the CFL draft that coming spring, Webster had broken his collarbone. His recovery period was set at four-to-eight weeks. 

His season was over — and his draft stock, which he was already cautiously optimistic about, took a considerable hit. But what gave him the most pain was being without his team and the “guys I grew up with for four years.”

“I wasn’t upset because my pro prospects [were] jeopardized … I was upset because it was the last year to go to war and battle with my teammates.” 

That rainy fall afternoon in Ottawa seemed like it would never find the room to escape him. His senior season would be lost — a missed opportunity to impress CFL scouts and a final chance to play for Queen’s.

But things, as they often do, change in the most remarkable and unlikeliest of ways. 

Since graduating from Queen’s in 2014, Webster’s played four seasons in the CFL — and, as of Sunday night, is a Grey Cup champion. 

***  

In January of 2014, at the turn of the New Year, Webster received an email.

It was from his defensive coordinator, Pat Tracey, a storied coach who’d just finished his 14th season with the Gaels. 

Webster was three and a half months removed from injury, training again and tentatively considering the idea of declaring for the CFL draft. Despite having doubts, he said something gave him the confidence “to push [himself] over the edge.” 

“It was Pat Tracey,” he said. “It was an email he sent me — and all it said was, ‘Get ready for the CFL.’”

Players and coaches alike held Tracey in high regard — “he was like a father figure on the team,” Webster said. The decorated coach, who left Queen’s to become the special teams coordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2014, knew what it took “from a player’s standpoint” to take the next step. 

“And the fact that he’d seen that in me and kind of put his stamp of approval on it,” Webster said, alluding to Tracey’s belief in his talent to go pro, “gave me the extra bit of confidence that I needed.”

There were a group of players who trained together, Webster added, who acted as a support system as he prepared for the coming CFL Regional Combine. Queen’s graduates Scott Macdonell, Alex Carroll, Derek Wiggan and Andrew Lue — all of whom currently play in the CFL — trained with Webster throughout the draft process. 

They lifted each other up in pursuit of a common goal, setting a standard and creating a kind of confidence for themselves along the way. What Webster long coveted for, both as person and athlete, was coming to fruition before his eyes.

“It starts from a dream, something that you set forth, to a vision … Over a while, that vision starts to crystalize.” 

***

Webster was sitting alongside his teammates on May 13, 2014.

It was the night of the CFL Draft and three Gaels had already been selected, but Webster waited patiently — he was comfortable. 

“You’re calling teams, you’re doing pre-draft interviews, emailing back-and-forth with different 

[organizations] … you kind of get a sense of the landscape,” Webster said of his understanding of the draft period.  “I never allowed myself to get too far ahead; I was taking that journey one step at a time.”

He couldn’t help but admit when the Saskatchewan Roughriders selected him in the fifth round “it was pretty cool seeing my name flash across the screen and then getting that call.” 

Webster was living in a moment he’d once thought of as just a far-fetched dream — but there was a hill left to climb. 

Webster hoisting the Grey Cup at TD Place in Ottawa.

After his first training camp with the Roughriders, in early June of 2014, he was cut. 

“At that point I was, like, ‘O.K., you know what, I’m coming back to Queen’s for a fifth year,’” he said, adding that returning to school was something he had previously given thought to even prior to the draft. “We had a good group of returning guys [at Queen’s] and I was really excited for that.” 

A career in professional sports, particularly for fringe draft picks, is often a tumultuous experience. That became clear to Webster when the Roughriders called him back and offered him a roster spot. 

The decision to return, he said, was tough but one he reflects upon with little regret. “[I]t had been a dream of mine to get to the professional level and I had to make that decision to leave Queen’s in the rear-view.”

Asked if he was skeptical about playing for a team who had recently cut him, Webster kept it frank. 

“I took a gamble on myself.”

“This was the opportunity that [I’d] been working toward for a long time and, if I’m sacrificing my fifth year at Queen’s, I’m going to go give this everything I have,” he added. 

*** 

Queen’s wasn’t just home for Webster — and it wasn’t just a place where he developed as a football player. 

It’s where he grew as a person. 

He remembered back to his freshman year and first day of training camp. Pat Sheahan, the Gaels’ 18-year head coach, brought all his new incoming recruits and parents together for a meeting. 

“When you’re a freshman and coming to Queen’s, coach Sheahan always says to [your parents], ‘Give me your son at 18 as a boy and when he leaves he’ll be a man.’”

“And I think that standard gets set [at Queen’s], especially in the football program,” he added. “It created that culture to push yourself and do whatever it took.” 

Webster — who’s played 54 total games in the CFL, including a career-high 18 in his first Grey Cup winning season with the Toronto Argonauts — has certainly pushed himself since last suiting up for the Gaels. 

And that’s what he hopes he’s remembered for — as someone who did whatever it took. 

“After I retire, I’ll think, ‘What do I want people to see from my football career?’ And that’s it.”

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