Waterloo Region Record
WATERLOO — Julien John is poised to make a triumphant return to the gridiron at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Actually, Laurier’s former starting quarterback never wandered far from the action.
The lanky, six-foot-six pivot quit football after a forgettable 2013 season, landed as a goalkeeper with the Golden Hawks’ varsity soccer team the next season, then, with no hard feelings on either side, returned to the grid Hawks in 2015 as an assistant coach.
John, now 24, won the starter’s job out of training camp three years ago. But the team failed to produce a win under his stewardship. So he was relegated to clipboard duty on the sidelines midway through the season. And that didn’t sit well with him.
“I love football to death but ultimately I wanted to play — not be on the bench,” John told The Record in 2014.
And now, after surveying the situation, a new-and-improved version of John is poised to take the reins this season for his final year of university eligibility.
With incumbents Eric Morelli and James Fracas gone to graduation, the quarterbacking position at Laurier is wide open.
John enters training camp, opening Sunday, as the odds-on favourite to become Laurier’s new-old starting quarterback for 2016.
“Julien is a good leader. He trained hard this summer. He deliberated on his decision to return for a while. If he was going to return, he was going to come back full-throttle,” said Hawks head coach Michael Faulds.
“Working as a coach with us last year will help slow the game down a bit for him,” Faulds added.
It’s a unique position to be in — returning to the game after having coached his teammates — and John said he intends to make the most of it.
“The road less travelled,” John said with a laugh.
“I grew up playing soccer, but I’ve always loved football the most — even when I wasn’t playing.”
The Hawks laid a significant plank in their rebuild last season with their first playoff win in five seasons, a 29-15 victory over McMaster in Ontario University Athletics quarter-final play.
But they take to the field this season without the nation’s leading rusher, Dillon Campbell, who graduated and signed earlier this week as a practice roster player with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Campbell was a two-time Canadian university rushing leader. He established six school records at Laurier, including the Golden Hawks’ career rushing mark at 3,568 yards.
And while the Hawk defence remains as strong as ever, John knows all eyes will be on him to direct an unproven offence in 2016.
“I can’t wait,” said the Oakville native, a national soccer title winner as a teenaged rep player in Brampton.
In three starts with the Hawks in 2013, John threw for 596 yards and three touchdowns.
Laurier visits the University of Montreal for an exhibition game on Aug. 20. The Hawks entertain Queen’s University for their regular-season opener on Aug. 28.