Vince Flamia’s football career came full circle this season.
Ten years after winning the Vanier Cup as a cornerback and safety with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, Flamia returned to the team’s sideline this past Ontario University Athletics season as a defensive assistant.
Originally planning to head to Vancouver for a coaching gig this fall, the Sarnia native changed his mind after two relatives died in August.
“I just decided it was a good opportunity to stay close to home and get my roots in the CIS football where I want to be,” he said.
Hawks head coach Michael Faulds invited him to join the Waterloo-based school. Faulds is part of a shift to young, up-and-coming coaches throughout Canadian Interuniversity Sport football, Flamia pointed out.
“It was a good opportunity to kind of watch how he handled a room of 24, 25-year-olds because he does a great job, he’s just an outstanding leader,” Flamia said of Faulds, a former Western Mustangs quarterback and Yates Cup MVP. “I was happy to be a part of it.”
Flamia worked as a special teams coach and defensive backs assistant under Dwayne Cameron.
“He’s kind of like the defensive backs guru,” Flamia noted of Cameron. “I think he’s sent the most guys to the CFL out of the defensive backfield. Great opportunity to coach under him.”
The pair, along with the rest of the defensive sideline, faced a tall task on Nov. 7 as their club came up against the undefeated Western Mustangs in the OUA semifinals, the top offence in the nation.
“We actually had them on the ropes a little bit,” he said.
Laurier’s season came to an end that day in London after a 32-18 final, but not before taking out Mustangs quarterback Will Finch. Oddly enough, rookie Scott Hutter, a London native and player of the year in his hometown before joining Laurier, inflicted the damage.
“Western was so disappointed that he ended up choosing Laurier,” Flamia said. “Ironically, he’s the kid that knocks out Finch, a London kid.
“We kind of joke that there’s going to be a warrant out for him.”
Injuries took their toll on the Hawks, too, as Flamia pointed to setback to running back Dillon Campbell – he played most of the season at just 70 per cent health – being a significant blow to their chances at pulling off the upset over their purple-clad counterparts.
“(Otherwise) we might have had a shot to take them down,” he said.
An injury also shelved one of three Sarnia natives on the Hawks roster this season. Starting linebacker Anthony Petrucci tore his ACL and MCL Sept. 12 in a regular-season contest against — who else? — Western.
“It was a fluke,” Flamia said. “He planted the wrong way, I think somebody may have cut-block him.
“It was definitely unfortunate.”
It’s the second time the 22-year-old St. Christopher’s grad has torn those ligaments and he’s currently going through post-surgery rehab.
“We’re hoping for the best,” said Flamia, who coached Petrucci during his high school career. “He’s an outstanding kid. We definitely missed his aggressiveness.”
Defensive backs Oren Bell and Jordan Huzevka were the other two Sarnia residents on the squad.
With the playoffs now over, the early off-season for Flamia and the rest of his staff has included a high school recruiting blitz to augment a fairly young current roster.
“We want everyone to see Golden Hawks sweaters everywhere,” he said. “We try not to focus on over-recruiting, we try to focus on finding the right guys for the right position for the guys leaving.”
Flamia has put an emphasis on finding talent in his hometown.
“We’re trying to get back to Sarnia to see if there’s some quality players we can look at,” he said. “There definitely is.”
The recruiting process also allows Flamia, who was a graduate intern/assistant with the NCAA Division I Ohio Bobcats the year before, to mingle with other coaches. Flamia is always hunting for jobs even though he is, as of right now, heading back to Laurier next season.
“I cold-call coaches, I jump in the car, I meet coaches face-to-face. I’ll apply to every coaching job that comes up,” he said. “Coach Faulds being a young coach, he understands it. He really – not pushes it, but he welcomes it.”
Flamia also credited his mother, Rose, for being an inspiration and supportive throughout his coaching journey.
As for Laurier, the team’s 4-4 conference record and 5-6 overall mark, along with a quarter-final victory over McMaster, has instilled pride in the program.
“I think teams are now aware that we’re back on the map,” he said. “We’re going to get some big-time recruits coming in next year.
“I know we’ll compete for a Yates next year, and I think in two or three years we’ll compete for a Vanier Cup.”