Talks with Hawks – Episode 5: Chris Vlowianitis

 

Laurier Football scout Dave Morrissey has spent his time in quarantine reaching out to and catching up with former Golden Hawk Football alumni. The result was a series of interviews with notable members of our Laurier Football community, which Dave was kind enough to share with us.

A typical university football roster in Canada has now over 100 players, but only less than half of those players will dress on game day. What is the experience like for those who don’t get to lace up their cleats on Saturdays in the fall? Today’s interview examines that reality.

Chris Vlowianitis was a WR on the Laurier Roster in 2004 and 2005, after an extremely successful high school career at St. Francis Xavier in Mississauga, where I was his Offensive Coordinator. Although Chris was a part of the back-to-back Yates Cup championship teams, and a member of the Vanier Cup championship squad, Chris never made the game day dress squad as a Golden Hawk. Before I start my interview with Chris, a couple of Laurier greats wanted to add a couple of comments about him:

Gary Jefferies (Laurier Football Head Coach, 2002-2012): I was his Head Coach. I remember Chris very well. I had a huge respect for him all and for all the scout players. It takes courage to go through practice, grind, and not play. Players like Chris have always been and always will be a key element of team success. How hard the scout team prepares and practices during the week will dictate how we perform on game day. A team victory requires the entire roster.

Stefan Ptaszek (Laurier Football OC, 2003-2005): I was his Offensive Coordinator. I really enjoyed working with Chris. He had a positive attitude and he was a super hard worker. He genuinely wanted to get better and he had a good sense of where he needed to improve.

(Dave Morrissey): Tell me a bit about your high school career. Why did you choose WLU?

(Chris Vlowiantis): After a brief introduction to high school football in grade 9 on a winless team, I returned to compete more seriously in grade 11. In my 5th year is when I feel I really developed a better understanding of the game. I stepped up my fitness level. I excelled as a receiver, but I also got experience playing special teams and cornerback in the playoffs. We won the championship that year and had about half a dozen guys move on the play at the next level. I chose to attend Laurier because I saw they were a team on the rise and I wanted to help them knock MacMaster off their throne. I knew going in that Laurier had a strong, veteran receiving core that would likely be around for another two years. The University of Toronto was also an option, but at that time they were the weakest team in the country. I knew I would have had a much better opportunity to step on the field there, possibly even in my rookie year, but I wanted to learn from and train with the best so I chose Laurier.

(DM): Tell me about your two years on the Laurier football team.

(CV): Freshman year was filled with highs and lows as I put my all into becoming the best receiver I could be under the guidance of my OC Coach Ptaszek. In my opinion, he was the most intelligent and methodical football mind in Canadian football. Being coached by such an outstanding staff and gaining the knowledge I acquired was an incredible experience. We could all feel that we were on the verge of becoming the best team in the nation. Practicing as a member of the 2nd team offence gave me the opportunity to battle daily against the 1st team defence. It was a great challenge and even more rewarding on the days I had success against them in practice. It was great to observe the guys ahead of me: Andy Baechler, Andrew Agro, Mike Maurice, and Joel Wright. They were the best receiving group in the nation. Winning every weekend and travelling with the team as a ‘bubble’ player was fun and low pressure. Life was like a big party every weekend. Beating Mac was awesome. Travelling to Montreal for the Uteck Bowl vs Laval was incredible, even though I broke my shoulder making a diving catch in practice. Winning the Vanier the next year was amazing too, even though I was sitting in the stands watching the game with my parents. However, it was tough not getting to play. I knew I was good enough to dress and start on other teams.      I was having success in practice against elite defenders on our squad and at the time I questioned whether I had made the right decision. My high school teammates who went on to the next level were having more individual success than me. It hurt that I wasn’t able to show them and others that I was becoming a better football player.

(DM): Was it difficult to practice on a daily basis knowing that it was unlikely that you were going to get the chance to participate on game day?

(CV): No, because for me, practice was my game day. That was the most enjoyable part of the process for me. The battles in practice were my reason for carrying on. I loved getting in the faces of the defensive backs like Jeff Smeaton, Connor Healey, Bobby Kootstra, and Jahmeeks Beckford. I would always chirp them when I beat them on a route. I used to say, “Number 1 D in the country? Y’all are letting this scout team light you up!”

(DM): Who was the toughest guy to compete against in practice?

(CV): In 2004, it was Connor Healey. He was so fast that it was almost impossible to shake him off. In 2005, it was Joel Wright. He had just switched over to DB, so he took every rep seriously. He was much quicker and stronger than me, plus he knew our entire offence so he was always a step ahead. I also had a love/hate relationship with Bobby Kootstra because I could roast him and he’d retaliate physically to keep me in line.

(DM): How did you end up at U of T and how did it feel to finally get some playing time?

(CV): I had to withdraw from Laurier after 2 years because of my poor work ethic on the academic side. After that, I made a decision to become a more well- rounded student athlete. After taking a year off, I enrolled at U of T. They were still on an 8 year losing streak and I wanted to be part of the group that ended that. I was there for 2 years and I got to play a little bit on both sides of the ball as well as return punts. During my time there, we did manage to win a few games so that felt really good.

(DM): Yeah, I am sure it was rewarding. Perseverance matters. Coach V at WLU told me about a defensive player at WLU during your era, Aaron Amadio, who didn’t dress for 4 full years and then finally did get to dress in his very last game.  It was at York. He had more friends and family in the stands than the home team did.

(CV): Yes, I remember him. Getting to finally step on the field at U of T was great. However, we were on the losing end of a lot blowouts. It was a humbling experience and at the time my dad was undergoing chemotherapy and mentally I was all over the place. I had also suffered a torn meniscus the season before so I decided not to play in my final year. I was able to finish my degree on a part time basis while I took a job at The Keg. I soon after became a full time Bar Manager at the Brampton location. I spent a number of years there, and also at Kegs in Mississauga and Brandon, Manitoba where I became a General Manager.

(DM): Any regrets from your university days?

(CV): In hindsight, I wish I would have studied more seriously when I was at WLU.  However, I don’t regret my decision to go there. I had the chance to learn from the best, and I took it. Coach Jefferies and his staff were so well organized. The lessons I learned there helped me become a better manager in my professional career. Currently, I am operating my own business. I felt very honoured to part of the 2015 HOF induction ceremony that brought back together all of the guys from the 2005 championship team. Some pretty stellar friendships still exist with those guys.

(DM): Who is your favourite NFL team?

(CV): It has always been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. My family used to spend a lot of time down there when I was a kid. Even now, I own and manage a vacation property complex down there.

(DM): Quite the offseason upgrade your team got at the QB position this year!       I have known you long enough to know that you are not just a following the Tom Brady bandwagon into Florida.  It was a smart move to buy seasons tickets this year.  I just hope you get to actually use them.

Talks with Hawks will return soon with Episode 6: A Kickers Roundtable

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