When high-school graduates are picking their schools, they often look to their family’s alma mater. Whether it’s the family connection or familiarity, families are often drawn to the same schools.
Queen’s football seems to have found the way to make the most of family connections.
When incumbent Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan was asked whether the concept of family pops in his head when mentioning Gaels football, he said “100 percent.”
“We don’t have fraternities here at Queen’s,” he said, “but the football team is very much a fraternity. It’s a family; [players] look out for one another.”
“It’s something we preach for sure,” said defensive lineman Nick Dowd. “Every waking minute of football season, besides going to class, you’re with your brothers.”
For Dowd and linebacker Nelkas Kwemo, this idea of family within the locker room now carries a literal connotation.
Within the past month, the upper-year players welcomed their respective brothers, Mitch Dowd and Sakhia Kwemo, to the football program as two of Sheahan’s pending 15-man recruiting class.
Mitch, who played a hybrid of quarterback and receiver in high school, represents the third line of Dowd brothers to don the tricolour, an opportunity he’s eagerly anticipated for some time.
“I’ve been watching my brothers play for the last eight or nine years and I’ve always loved [Queen’s],” said Dowd, a Kingston native, upon signing his student-athlete agreement. “I’m just super excited to be here.”
A first for both siblings, Nick said having his brother on the team will certainly feel new, but something he nonetheless cherishes.
“He’s definitely got the inside scoop,” Dowd said jokingly, adding that, after playing with his brother Aaron, a recent Queen’s graduate, the trifecta of Dowds who’ve worn the tricolour has “created a dynasty.”
“We’ve had history of brothers here in the past, and I know they always work out well. Playing football, especially with a biological brother, it’s just something where you can sit back and watch and be proud of their accomplishments.”
Nelkas, a Gael captain and the first of his family to play for Queen’s, credits the pedigree of the program and the tradition it bears as to what initially drew him to the school throughout his recruitment in early 2014.
“When people stress the difference between Queen’s from all other teams, they talk about tradition, the strong relationships built between alumni,” he said.
Questioning whether or not he would lobby Sakhia to come play for the Gaels was a nonstarter.
“The family aspect comes hand-in-hand,” said Nelkas, who, like his brother, hailed from a prep school south of the border before coming to Queen’s. “[It’s about] legacies — when you have one person come through, the whole family wants to come through.”
“My family [has] experienced Queen’s through me and it’s been an unbelievable experience the past two years … so when the time came for my brother, it was a no-brainer.”
Dynamic athletes in their own regard, Mitch and Sakhia are two players Sheahan is grateful to usher into the program, adding: “The brothers thing is a bonus … they’re really good players.”
Mitch comes to Queen’s after leading the La Salle Knights to a 9-2 record and winning the National Capital Bowl as a quarterback, but he excels as a receiver too — being named an OVFL All-Star for the Kingston Grenadiers this past summer. Sakhia was awarded defensive MVP at The Gunnery in Connecticut as a linebacker, while the team maintained a perfect record. Both will head to training camp listed as receivers.
Being a rookie to anything, let alone football, can be tough, but Nelkas thinks the transition for all incoming freshman will be smooth.
“You want to make them feel included, feel comfortable and let them know that we’ve all been in first year,” he said. “Once you wear that jersey, we all look out for each other.”
As for Nick, he’s just excited to get on the field again — this time alongside a familiar face in a rarely shared place.
“I’m really looking forward to the first day of practice … I’m telling you [Mitch and I] are going to be going head-to-head quite a bit.”
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