Waterloo Region Record
WATERLOO — Mark Surya just might be the brightest young football coach you don’t know.
His colleagues at Wilfrid Laurier University are well acquainted with his genius, however.
And when Laurier’s head coach Michael Faulds decided to surrender his offensive co-ordinator’s portfolio this past off-season, it was really only a formality.
Surya, 26, the Golden Hawks’ receivers coach, had been calling most of the Ontario University Athletics team’s offensive plays from the press box for the past season or so.
Or as Faulds explained it: “Essentially, toward the end of (the 2014 season), I was just regurgitating what Mark was giving me.
“I thought, ‘This is crazy that I’m holding the title when he is the one making a lot of the calls.’ It seemed silly for me to be taking the credit for it.”
An offensive co-ordinator doesn’t have to be the smartest guy in the stadium — but it sure helps to be one of them, like Surya.
And so, Surya, the one-time Hawks receiver and a former Vanier Cup winner with the Queen’s Golden Gaels back in 2009, will be sending in the plays officially this season.
If 26 seems too young for the role, consider:
•Faulds, in the third year of the Hawks’ impressive rebuild, was a 29-year-old boy wonder when Laurier’s administration handed him the keys to the team three years ago;
•Surya, an academic all-Canadian during his playing days, is in his fourth year of PhD studies in sports psychology at Laurier;
•The ever-smiling Surya has already found the Promised Land some coaches can only dream of. Word around campus is he is equally respected and liked by his players.
“Mark has a brilliant football mind,” said Faulds. “Our players really like him. He’s a young guy, really energetic. The guys are responding well.”
Now Faulds, Canadian university football’s all-time passing leader from his days with the Western Mustangs, has more time to devote to coaching his quarterbacks and to his administrative duties as the team’s manager of football operations.
So it’s Surya who tosses and turns at night dreaming up ways to bewilder the league’s defences.
And the Burlington native is more than happy to lie awake.
“It’s really hard to replace the competition once you are done playing. Coaching is one of those ways you can do it,” said Surya, who now calls Kitchener home.
“Now that I’m offensive co-ordinator, instead of focusing just on the 22 (receivers) I had, I focus on the whole offence. That involves game planning week to week and game prep and formulating how I want to attack certain teams and who is going to be in for certain packages.”
It certainly helps that Surya has at his disposal the guy he calls “the best player in the country.”
The superb Dillon Campbell, drafted and then released by the CFL’s Toronto Argos this spring, led Canadian university teams with 1,458 rushing yards last season.
“When you have Dillon Campbell, it makes play calling really easy,” Surya said with a megawatt grin during a break in practice this week.
“My job is to get Dillon the ball in different ways — out of the backfield, on different screens, to motion different guys to get the look we want so Dillon is not just running the ball into 11 guys in the middle of the field.”
Surya said he knows exactly how fortunate he is to be given such an enormous responsibility just three seasons into his coaching career.
“At other schools, you might not get the opportunity,” said Surya. “Michael (Faulds) trusts me.
“I’m really lucky. Michael always says he is open to anybody. It doesn’t matter about their age.”
When Surya played at Laurier, his offensive co-ordinator was another fresh-faced newbie, Ryan Pyear, now the quarterbacks coach and pass-game co-ordinator at the University of Waterloo.
Pyear was all of 23, only a season removed from quarterbacking the Hawks to the Vanier Cup in 2005, when he was named Laurier’s offensive co-ordinator.
Hiring Pyear was a bold move at the time — one that had its ups and downs.
And Surya knows he will make his mistakes, too, as he grows into the role. But he does have a safety net.
“I am trying to get a little more aggressive play calling out there,” he said. “Michael does a really good job of reeling me back in.”
Surya’s offence will continue Faulds’ no-huddle, fast-tempo system.
This year, Surya said, he expects to reap the rewards of Faulds’ holistic football philosophy.
“Instead of teaching one individual how they run their route, we teach the entire concept of the play. Instead of giving them a small piece of the puzzle, we are asking our players to put the whole puzzle together,” says Surya.
“It takes a little more time, but our philosophy is you can’t prepare them for every single situation. You need to give the players the tools to see and understand so they can make the right decision in that critical moment.”
Third-year receiver Marcus Arkarakas said he’s a believer.
“(Surya) has really taken his new role seriously. He doesn’t lose track of his receivers. He’s always working with us, which I really love.
“I think he’s really growing as a coach. He’s taken that next step to be the best offensive co-ordinator he can.”