The Lions men’s football team ended their season with a 41-7 loss to the Varsity Blues. While this season may not have panned out the way the Lions were hoping for, there is so much more on the horizon for graduating and rookie players alike.
Sterling May, a first-year rookie playing defence, is already moving his focus onto the next season. “The next steps for me are trying my best to become as strong, fast, and fundamentally sound as I can before our 2022-2023 season. I also look forward to becoming a leader on this team and helping my teammates progress so we can have the best possible outcome in our next season.”
May took this season as an opportunity to learn more about the team’s dynamics, and believes this will be key in making sure the team comes back stronger next season. With the improvements the rookie players have made, May believes next season’s football will be one to look forward to.
On the other hand, the team is bidding farewell to 16 senior players. For these seniors, this season marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, as Dante Mastrogiuseppe, Victor Belanger, and Harrison Mancuso, reflect on their time as a Lion and the next steps for their future.
For graduating senior and No. 87 receiver Mancuso, this stage in life represents an uncertain yet exciting time.
“The next steps are to decide what would be the best choice to begin my next chapter.”
Whether it’s between a career in sports management or pursuing an MBA, this may not necessarily be the end of Mancuso’s football career. He plans on staying in shape and is leaving the door open for the possibility of continuing to play football in the future.
Looking back on this season, Mancuso believes that the protocols introduced in lieu of the pandemic were an obstacle. Like his teammate May, Mancuso believes that a team’s dynamics play a role in winning games.
Mancuso found it difficult to get to know his teammates before the season began with restrictions as they were. “It was difficult to prepare the way we do normally, with Zoom meetings not being the ideal way to learn as position groups and units.”
However, Mancuso does not believe that this excuses their performance as other teams were going through the same difficulties. He does hope that the team takes this season as a lesson learned.
One of the graduating seniors, No. 15 punter/kicker Dante Mastrogiuseppe has his sights set on the Canadian Football League. He is getting ready for the draft scheduled to take place in spring 2022 and eventually hopes to play in the National Football League. While this may mark the end of his time playing as a Lion, it is only just the beginning of his football career.
When asked if there is some advice he would wish to impart on those who will come after him, Mastrogiuseppe kept it simple. He emphasized the importance of getting a full night’s sleep, staying in the present, and living for the moment.
The lesson Mastrogiuseppe plans on never forgetting from his time as a Lion is the importance of giving your blood, sweat, and tears to a cause you believe in.
“Being a Lion taught me how once you give it all you have, you need to just trust the process.”
In response to whether the protocols introduced this season as a response to the pandemic played a role in the team’s performance, Mastrogiuseppe says, “It was an inconvenience but not a hindrance.”
While he acknowledged that Zoom meetings and other restrictions were an obstacle, he too believes that ultimately the fate of the season was determined by the team’s performance.
Echoing similar thoughts, No.19 receiver Victor Belanger talks about how the protocols had an impact on the team’s administration more than the team’s performance.
“Our team had strict protocols that we had to follow that made our practice/film sessions much more difficult. In addition, there were some athletes that weren’t able to participate in games due to the COVID-19 protocols.”
However, he too believes that since every team went through this struggle, it levelled the playing field. Ultimately, he does not believe that the team’s performance was impacted disproportionally.
Belanger talks about how being a Lion taught him the importance of being resilient.
“There are always going to be losses in life, whether it’s business, school, or sports — the losses aren’t what’s important, it’s about how you bounce back from the losses.”
When discussing the Lions’ track record, Belanger says, — rather jovially — “I’ve been competitive my whole life and never liked losing. So coming to a team that loses more than they win has taught me to move on from losses and focus on the next task at hand.”
For Belanger, the next steps entail moving back to British Columbia, hanging up his cleats, and pursuing a career in finance instead. He mentions it will be difficult to not be an athlete anymore but looks forward to ways he can fill the void.
A game from this season that Belanger will always remember was when the Lions went up against the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the TD Stadium. “It was unreal. The atmosphere and the facility we were able to play on was truly a blessing.”
However, the memory is bittersweet as they lost to the home team 17-20 in a game that was down to the last wire.
“Traveling to Ottawa and playing the same day is difficult, and to see our 45-man travel roster show up and fight as hard as they did to come up just short was tough.” Belanger believes that this game determined the remainder of the Lions’ season.
Speaking on the behind-the-scenes preparation for the season and the mental toll it can take on a person, Belanger says he realized the importance of mental health.
“I learned that you can’t bottle these things up because it only gets worse. I learned how important it is to have good people around to talk about it and push through, and that you’re not alone.”
In a post-game press conference, Head Coach Warren Craney revealed he is excited about the dome covering the York Lions stadium and the possibilities it opens up for next season. He believes this will turn the tide in the Lions’ favour as they will be able to practice more rigorously and maximize chances for winning games next season.