Fifth-year duo guns for playoff run

As their time as Gaels ends, Billy McPhee and Alex Carroll take on leadership role with youthful team

Billy McPhee led the Gaels to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons as starting quaterback.
Billy McPhee led the Gaels to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons as starting quaterback.
Credit: 
Supplied by Alex Pickering
Two years after tearing his ACL, Alex Carroll is leading all Gaels receivers with 22 receptions for 260 yards.
Two years after tearing his ACL, Alex Carroll is leading all Gaels receivers with 22 receptions for 260 yards.

With their young squad struggling through a winless stretch, Queen’s football has looked to a pair of veterans for leadership.

Quarterback Billy McPhee and receiver Alex Carroll are two of only three fifth-year seniors on a team laden with first- and second-year players, as a result of all but six starters from last season departing.

While their final season with the Gaels isn’t going as planned — the team is currently 0-4, tied for last in the OUA — both said they’ve enjoyed taking on a leadership role.

In his final season donning Queen’s golden jersey, McPhee has quietly put together a solid campaign, ranking second in the OUA with 1018 passing yards. He gave credit to head coach Pat Sheahan for developing his football career and helping him get to a stage where he can help younger players.

That mentorship role is something McPhee said he’ll try to continue after his time at Queen’s finishes. He was invited to the CFL regional combine this year, but if the professional game doesn’t work out, he expressed an interest in staying in football as a coach.

“I’ve been playing football since I was six years old. I’ve had many great coaches and I think I really want to give back,” McPhee said. “That’s the great thing about sports — even when you’re done playing, you can still make an impact as a coach. But if I get a call from the CFL, I’d love that too.”

Despite McPhee’s individual success this year, the Gaels have struggled so far, starting the season winless after forfeiting their lone victory due to eligibility issues.

Despite the losses, McPhee is still holding out hope.

“Statistically, any time you can keep the interceptions down, it’s good for a quarterback, but we still haven’t technically won a game,” he said. “I’m never really satisfied, especially when we don’t win. Obviously, I wish we could have played better in some of these games, but the season’s only halfway over and we still have an opportunity to grow as a team.” Starting 0-4 is just the latest challenge Carroll has faced at Queen’s. Two years ago, he suffered a severe knee injury, tearing his ACL returning a kick in the Gaels’ OUA semi-final loss to the Guelph Gryphons.

After returning last season, he’s broken out this year, hauling in 22 passes for 260 yards and becoming McPhee’s top target.

“I feel great this season. It’s been a long time coming for me,” Carroll said. “I always thought that I could be a top-calibre receiver, but things like having the knee injury held me back the last couple of years.” Carroll has another chance to make the CFL after this year — but if his goal falls short, he’s eyeing another sporting career.

“Once my football career is over, I think it’ll be cool to explore my bobsledding career,” he said. “My athletic typing is applicable to that sport and I went to a bobsled identification camp a few years ago. Football isn’t a sport that’s represented at the Olympic level so I think that could be something to work towards, making the winter Olympics.”

A native of Victoria B.C., Carroll travelled across the country to suit up for the Gaels, originally lured in part by Queen’s prestigious football tradition.

As his best season and time with the tricolour nears a close, Carroll said he’ll remember the Richardson Stadium experience fondly.

“I’m going to miss the energy of the fans here,” he said. “I know that this team means a lot to this school and this team doing well means a lot to this school. It’s an amazing feeling to go out to Richardson, make a big play, and hear the crowd explode. There’s nothing else like it and I’ll always remember it.”

He pointed to the Gaels’ OUA semi-final victory over the Gryphons last year as the standout moment for him in his five years with the team.

After losing 66-0 to Guelph last week, the pair is looking ahead to Saturday’s game against the McMaster Marauders.

Ending their careers with a playoff appearance is now a daunting task, but Carroll said he’s confident the Gaels can still make it.

“I believe in our team’s ability to win games — it’s just we’ve underperformed at times and we’re still learning how to finish,” he said. “Hopefully this week goes the way we want and we’ll have a shot at the end of the year.”

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