Vincent MacDonald’s football journey from the James Bay Eagles to the McGill Redmen

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It was a hot and sunny afternoon September 15 at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium in Montreal when the McGill Redmen and Concordia Stingers faced off for the 50th annual Shaughnessy Cup, a trophy awarded to the winner of a football battle between Montreal’s two English-language universities. This year’s competition saw a young Cree named Vincent MacDonald pacing the sidelines and soaking in the action as part of his freshman year at McGill University and as a new recruit to the school’s storied football team.

While McGill took an early lead thanks to unforced errors and unnecessary penalties committed by Concordia in the first half, the game was a hard-fought contest that saw four lead changes, 10 quarterback sacks and four lengthy touchdown plays.
Concordia QB Adam Vance hit receiver Jarryd Taylor with an 80-yard bomb in the third quarter to give Concordia its first lead of the game. McGill responded with a 66-yard drive and a touchdown of its own, before adding a field goal and finishing the third quarter back on top 26-19. The fourth quarter was all Stingers. A 10-play, 75-yard drive tied the game at 26, and a four-play 61-yard march sealed the victory 33-26.

Listed as a tight end/fullback on the Redmen roster, MacDonald didn’t get any playing time on this day, and has yet to see game action after three games into the season. But his time will come.
“As a first-year player they definitely don’t put me in as much because I have to earn the coach’s trust,” he told the Nation. “I’m trying to earn my spot and still getting to know the coaches and there’s three third-year guys ahead of me who have been there for a while.”

But he’s focussed on becoming a regular and is optimistic that his continuing hard work and constant training will eventually pay off. MacDonald detailed a gruelling schedule of meetings, practice and schoolwork.

“Every week it’s usually Tuesday to Friday, two hours of meetings and two hours of practice,” he said. “On top of that, I have to go to school for three hours a day from Monday to Thursday. It’s quite the experience, I have to balance it all but I’m getting into the groove and so far it’s looking good.”
MacDonald is enrolled in McGill’s School of Continuing Studies where he’s completing a certificate in Human Resources Management.

Born and raised in Chisasibi, MacDonald started playing football at 12. He credits Trevor Monahan for bringing the sport to Chisasibi and creating the James Bay Eagles, which gave Cree kids the chance to travel throughout Canada and play six-a-side football. Soon, Chisasibi was running a summer program lead by university football players, who convinced MacDonald that he could play football at an elite level.

“It’s been a dream of mine ever since I discovered the game of football – to keep playing and see how far it would take me,” said MacDonald. “I knew of the sport but never fully understood it until I started watching and playing it. Running, catching the ball and being physical was something I liked doing and saw myself doing it competitively. When these university students told me I had the potential to play next-level football I realized it could take me places so I took it seriously.”

Still, it wasn’t a straight road to McGill for the Cree athlete. Despite his skills as a football player, his high school grades made it difficult for MacDonald to find a Cégep with a football team that would accept him as a student. He wanted to play football and go to college in Montreal, but Dawson College, the only school he was able to enrol in, does not field a team.

After successfully completing the 2015-2016 school year at Dawson and enjoying his time in Montreal, MacDonald once again turned towards possible football opportunities – this time in Ottawa. While he made the cut for the Ottawa Sooners of the Canadian Junior Football League, he had also committed to return to school in Montreal and had to decide between school and sports. Ultimately, he made the difficult decision to play football in Ottawa.

“I was proud to make the cut for the Ottawa Sooners so I made the decision to skip a semester of Cégep, thinking I’d go right back in the winter,” he said. “Some people questioned my decision which made me second guess and doubt myself but I went with my heart and played the season.”

Personal and financial issues made returning to school that winter difficult so he returned home to work and train for the following season.

“It was a hard winter,” said MacDonald. “I thought I was missing out on school and my personal issues got to me. I became somewhat depressed, even though I was home with my family and able to train as much as I wanted. There were lots of ups and downs.”

MacDonald fought through the adversity and returned to Ottawa, not only as a member of the Sooners but also as a newly enrolled student in Business Management and Entrepreneurship at Algonquin College.

His exploits on the field that year resulted in a highlight film that one of his trainers and mentors was able to get in the right hands. Impressed by the tape, McGill head coach Ronald Hilaire offered him a chance to play for the Redmen, which MacDonald readily accepted. After jumping through all of the academic hoops, he was ready for training camp in early August of this year.

“It’s quite the blessing to be pursuing both football and education in the same prestigious establishment,” he said.

MacDonald thanked his friends and families as well as his coaches for all of their ongoing support.
“I don’t like to single people out,” he said, “but my mom definitely held me together through all of the difficult times. When things got tough she was always there to support me. I’d like to thank my family for letting me find my path and never doubting me and all my friends and mentors, all the people that saw my potential.”

To sum up what creates success in the physically and mentally demanding sport of football MacDonald responded, “Resilience.”

Football is not an easy sport, he added. “It’s probably the most complex of them all. You might think you’re a good player in one place but when you go play somewhere else you’re sure to be challenged. I doubted the path I took many times but I feel like it’s coming to light now. Your first try won’t always work but if you put your heart into it and never give up, it will soon become a reality.”

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