Under heavy demands

For Gaels, the mental toll is just as great as the physical one

Jesse Andrews finished 10th in the OUA this season with 473 rushing yards, scoring five touchdowns.
Jesse Andrews finished 10th in the OUA this season with 473 rushing yards, scoring five touchdowns.
Giovanni Aprile missed Queen’s last two games with a separated shoulder. It’s unlikely he’ll return this season, his last one as a Gael.
Giovanni Aprile missed Queen’s last two games with a separated shoulder. It’s unlikely he’ll return this season, his last one as a Gael.
Alex Carroll played in all but one game this season after suffering a torn ACL last November. He hauled in 12 passes for 197 yards.
Alex Carroll played in all but one game this season after suffering a torn ACL last November. He hauled in 12 passes for 197 yards.

After graduating high school, Jesse Andrews didn’t want to play university football.

The running back and engineering student, now a third-year player at Queen’s, was tired of dealing with the physical and psychological demands of his sport.

“I was done with the pressures,” said Andrews.

Yet, he decided to continue playing after being motivated by his parents.

“I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. But I figured I’d give it a try.”

Andrews eventually did suit up for the Gaels, and tomorrow he’ll return to the field. He’s preparing to dress for the Yates Cup after sitting out the past two games with a fractured thumb.

Tomorrow, the pressure will be on for Andrews and his teammates, as a loss will mean the end of the season for Queen’s.

During the Gaels’ last game against Western on Sept. 28, Andrews fumbled the ball on the team’s first drive, and was pulled from the game.

“I didn’t see the field for the rest of the day, so it was pretty demoralizing,” he said. “A lot of people watched that game. A lot of people watched me drop that ball.” Queen’s running backs — Andrews, fifth-year Ryan Granberg, fourth-year Daniel Heslop and rookie Jonah Pataki — split carries throughout the season, which places pressure on them to perform.

“[Granberg] was the nation’s leading rusher, so it’s a tough job to follow in his footsteps,” Andrews said.

During games, the players are often unaware when they’ll be subbed off.

“Psychologically, it’s demoralizing,” Andrews said. “Once you get on a roll on the field, now it’s the next guy in line [and] you get subbed off.”

The players can seek emotional support and guidance from teammates facing the same challenges, he said, but it can be tougher to approach their coaches.

“If you go to the coach, I find he would help you a lot but … I don’t know if I would go to [him],” Andrews said. “I don’t know if I would want to show a weakness like that.”

Gaels wide receiver Giovanni Aprile said playing and attempting to maintain a high academic standing can be too much for some players.

“[Some players] end up quitting … they realize that maybe football isn’t for them,” Aprile said. “They can’t really handle that time commitment and they focus on school, but everyone’s different.”

With football commitments comprising the majority of his week, Aprile finds time on Sundays to complete his homework.

“It’s pretty stressful,” he said. “We lose some hours of sleep but there’s work to be done.”

A first-year teachers college student, Aprile was drafted by the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2012. With an opportunity to pursue a pro football career, the need to perform is at its highest.

“It basically comes down to if [the team is] still interested and it’s my job to do my best in games and kind of catch their eyes,” he said. “It’s all up in the air.”

Like Andrews, Aprile missed the Gaels’ past two games, though his absence was due to a separated shoulder.

This season marks his final year with the Gaels, and the severity of his injury makes it unlikely he’ll play tomorrow.

“Going down so late in the season … where our team has the chance to go all the way, it was difficult for me,” Aprile said. “It probably still hasn’t really hit me.”

Aprile and Andrews aren’t the only Gaels that have been recently injured. Fellow wide receiver Alex Carroll tore his ACL and meniscus during a game in November 2012, and had to undergo major knee surgery.

“Football is such a physical sport. It’s a pretty much 100 per cent chance of injury … [which is] obviously a big psychological battle,” Carroll said.

“Having something you love taken away from you is obviously really tough.”

The game where Carroll was hurt was televised nationally, just like three of Queen’s games this season.

With the country tuning in to tomorrow’s final, players face the pressure of having all of their mistakes caught on camera.

“You’re constantly being watched,” Carroll said. “It’s a true test of fortitude and mental strength.”

For support, some Queen’s football players turn to John Phelan, an associate professor in the School of Business.

Phelan serves as a mental skills coach for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. Having been involved in the field of sports psychology for over a decade, he’s well-versed in the challenges of competitive sport.

“The biggest thing I offer them is really about understanding that your life probably has two priorities: academic and football,” Phelan said. “Something’s got to give. You might have to give up your social life [to find balance].”

In addition to academic pressures, many players are hopeful of eventually being drafted to the CFL.

“If you are worried about something you actually have zero control over, it’s really wasting your emotional, spiritual and mental energy,” Phelan said. “It’s taking away from your performance.”

When midterms, playoffs and dreams for the future collide, time management is critical.

“[Your] direction is going to be spread two ways,” Phelan said. “One direction will be academics, which you have to maintain and do well.

“The other one would be Queen’s football in preparation of the Yates Cup on the weekend.”

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