Pro dreams, & a career cut short

Ex-teammates Doug Corby and Will Finch conclude OUA careers on differing paths

Corby (left) and Finch pictured at the 2011 Golden Horseshoe Bowl, which they won by a 37-0 score.
Corby (left) and Finch pictured at the 2011 Golden Horseshoe Bowl, which they won by a 37-0 score.
Supplied by Nelson Lords

In 2011, Nelson Lords football teammates Doug Corby and Will Finch were the talk of Ontario high school football as the “next big thing”.

The Burlington-based Lords were dubbed the number one team in Canada by, and Finch and Corby formed a formidable quarterback-wide receiver partnership.

“It was awesome to be able to catch passes from a guy of that calibre,” Corby said, as Finch entered his final season as one of the top prospects in Canada. 

The 2011 Nelson team boasted an undefeated 12-0 record and were champions of the Golden Horseshoe region, culminating their season with a dominant 37-0 victory in the championship game.

“It was one of the best teams I’d ever been a part of,” Corby said. “We hung out with each other 24 hours a day. We had fun working in practice, we had fun working out, we had fun running at the end of practices.”

A transfer from basketball, Corby played just two years of football at Nelson, but it was clear from his speed and raw athleticism that he’d make an impact at the next level.

“After the season, a few guys from our team had a talk as to where we were headed the next year,” Corby said. 

While Corby and his teammates would’ve liked to stay together, he said they understood different options made sense for each individual. Finch showed some interest in the Gaels program, but it was another Burlington quarterback — Billy McPhee — who held the starter’s job at Queen’s.

Finch chose Western instead, where he’d slot into the first-string quarterback role midway through his rookie season. And while the Mustangs showed interest in Corby and his Nelson coaches tried to tip his hand to staying with Finch, he had his heart set on heading to Kingston.

Four-and-a-half years later, while Corby and Finch both had exceptional university careers, the two have stepped down ultimately different paths.

Corby, who’s ranked among the top 20 prospects in the 2016 CFL draft, is currently training for the CFL combine in March. Finch’s career, on the other hand, will remain very much a what-if scenario in Canadian football lore. 

After an injury-plagued four-year career at Western, Finch announced last week his retirement from playing football, largely due to lingering concussion issues that cut short both his 2014 and 2015 campaigns.

“It’s sad to see it happen [to a guy like that],” Corby said.

The recipient of the 2013 and 2015 OUA MVP awards, Finch and his Western offence were a cut above their Ontario peers during much of his career, setting CIS records in total offensive points and touchdowns this past year. Finch also set OUA single-season marks in passing yards and completion percentage his 2013 year.

In offseasons back in Burlington, Finch, Corby and other teammates would often meet up and train together, toss around a football and reminisce about Nelson while talking about their CFL dreams.

In September 2013, the pair met for their first match, both in starting roles for their university teams. Western bested Queen’s 51-30 in the regular season and again in November in the Ontario Yates Cup final by a 51-22 score.

“That was a rough one,” Corby said of the OUA final. He finished with 82 receiving yards and a touchdown on the day. Finch threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for 77 yards.

It would end up being the most important game the two would play against each other for the rest of their careers.

At the time of the win, Western was ranked first in the country. It looked like Finch was going to lead Western to their first national title since 1994.

Corby was carving his role amongst a receiving corps that featured Giovanni Aprile, Alex Carroll and Scott Macdonnell — team vets at the time and current CFL players.

In a CFL that hasn’t seen a Canadian starting quarterback in over two decades, some thought Finch would be the one to break through. Finch’s first OUA title appeared to be the beginning of his career, but looking back, it may have been the peak.

Corby (top, right) and Finch (bottom, centre) at the 2013 Yates Cup. (Journal File Photos)

It wasn’t a concussion, though, that cost Finch his first legitimate chance at a Vanier Cup, but a poor team performance in the 2013 Mitchell Bowl national semi-final. A slight hip injury to Finch, a snow-covered field and poor defending resulted in a 44-3 loss to third-ranked Calgary. 

The Mustangs came into the following season ranked third nationally as Ontario’s top-ranked team.

While Western jumped out to a 4-0 start in 2014, everything went wrong for Queen’s. Forfeiting a win over Windsor due to use of an ineligible player and losing the next week to Ottawa, Queen’s was pummelled 43-12 in Finch’s first visit to Richardson Stadium as a starting quarterback in week three of the season. 

Two more losses later and Queen’s saw themselves in a 0-5 hole. Three wins to end the season wouldn’t erase the poor start, as Queen’s sat out of the playoffs just a year after finishing second in Ontario.

Corby was a rare bright spot, making the OUA second all-star team for the first time.

And while Western’s first half of the season couldn’t have gone much better, disaster for the Mustangs struck in their fifth game. Finch suffered his first reported concussion at the university level in a 32-29 loss to McMaster. Just two weeks later, he was playing again, and the move appeared rushed for a serious head injury. However, Finch threw three touchdowns and 258 yards, but still lost against Guelph, who finished the season 7-1. 

Finch played the final regular season game the following week against Windsor, where he again suffered a concussion that sidelined him for the remainder of the 2014 season. Without Finch at the helm, Western fell to Guelph in the OUA semi-final by a 51-26 score. After the year, Finch announced that he’d end his career if he suffered another concussion, but began the road to recovery.

In May of 2015, the offseason East-West bowl All-Star game saw the former Lords meet up again. Neither knew it would be the last time they’d face off against one another, but Corby picked up MVP honours with 131 receiving yards and two touchdowns for the East. Finch had 97 passing yards for the West. 

In 2015, Corby missed three games in the middle of the season due to injury, including the Western matchup in London in week four, where the Mustangs came out on top.

Despite his injuries, Corby led the OUA in yards per reception with 19.7 and averaged 118 yards a game.

Finch led Western to an 8-0 record, a #2 national rank and another MVP performance in an offence that averaged 62 points a game. 

Queen’s finished fourth in the OUA, and fell in the first round of the playoffs. The Mustangs earned a bye into the OUA semi-final — this would be Finch’s final football game.

Hit by Laurier defender Scott Hutter in the third quarter, Finch was carted off the field with another concussion.

Western went through to the OUA final against Guelph, though the team wasn’t exactly the same dual-threat offence without Finch. The Gryphons won by a 23-17 score, which wasn’t overly surprising with backup Stevenson Bone making his first start of the year.

And that was it. There was no storybook ending for Will Finch. True to his offseason proclamation, Finch retired from the sport he loved this past week.

The two former teammates leave their programs in different places. The Mustangs are a perennial powerhouse looking to adapt to life after Finch. Queen’s, on the other hand, boasts a rather young roster looking to re-emerge as one of Ontario’s top teams, and win their first Ontario title since a victory over Western in 2009.

Currently training in Florida, Corby sets his sights on playing in the CFL this upcoming summer and finishing his degree in the wintersemester of 2017. While he does have another year of eligibility left at the university level, he’s hoping to stick wherever he’s drafted.

Gaels Head coach Pat Sheahan praised Corby’s speed and big-play ability. Having put a number of receivers into the CFL in the past, Sheahan believes Corby’s the next in line. 

Finch’s involvement in the game isn’t over, either, though it’s in an altered role. He’s looking to get involved in training and coaching, while graduating this year with a social science degree.

“You can’t bring a guy like that away from football,” Corby said. “He loves the game too much.”

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