Hugh Lawson excelled as a defensive linemen for the Hawks from 1988 to 1992. He was a three time OUA All Star and a key member of the 1991 National Championship team. In the summer of 2014, I had just helped my girlfriend move from Milton to Markham. I stopped into a Harvey’s to pick us up some lunch and there was a guy there in line near me. We eyed each other for a couple of minutes, both seemingly recognizing each other, but not really sure. I was not 100% certain it was Hugh because his shirt wasn’t exposing his abs! As he later told me, “Hey, when you’ve got it, flaunt it!” He also told me that I looked exactly the same as I did in university, which is a sure sign of how nice a guy Hugh is, or perhaps, it’s a sign of post- concussion syndrome. I was a year ahead of Hugh at WLU and although we didn’t know each other back then, we did see each other in the weight room quite often. I am not sure which one of us broke the ice that day in the Harvey’s, but since then I have had the pleasure of talking to Hugh a few times over the last half dozen years. He was gracious enough to be the source of this column.
Dave Morrissey: What was your reason for attending WLU?
Hugh Lawson: I attribute it to Tom Arnott. Like Tim Bisci mentioned a few weeks ago, initially Western showed a lot of interest, but then their attention lessened. Coach Arnott was in contact on multiple occasions. On my official visit to campus, I actually was quite sick. He really impressed my parents by having the cafeteria staff make me some soup to ease my stomach pains.
(DM): As a rookie in training camp, what veterans helped make you feel comfortable?
(HL): It was such a shift from high school. It was quite a daunting task to go from being ‘the man’ in high school to being ‘a boy among men’ as a rookie at university. There were many veterans that really helped ease my transition. Rod Philp and Mike Choma from the offence and Veron Stiliadis, Bill Madden, Dan Compagnon, John Graffi, Rohan Dove, and Mike Wilson from the defence were all very welcoming. (Editor’s Note: In a past column, I mentioned that it is a small world. Well, Dan Compagnon has been the principal at my high school for the past 4 years)
(DM): Who was the toughest player you ever had to face in practice and in the OUA?
(HL): It was quite a valuable experience to have to go up against such good offensive linemen in practice at WLU. It often made game experiences a walk in the park. In particular, Pete Gisborn and Glenn Ferguson were two guys who were very strong and aggressive. Ferguson was an OUA All Star and Gisborn was an All Canadian. (Editor’s Note 2: I worked with Ferguson at the legendary off campus bar Taps and his son Drew is a current member of the team. Like his dad, he is an offensive lineman). In the OUA, Gerald Hlady at Windsor was the best I ever played against. He was an All Canadian. He was very strong, athletic, and technically sound and he really got the upper hand on me the one time I got to play against him. It was the most I had ever been dominated at any level and I have never forgotten it.
(DM): What was your CFL experience like?
(HL): I was the very last player selected in the 1992 CFL draft by the Toronto Argos. I was cut so I came back and played a 5th year at Laurier. The next year, I returned to the Argos and I played for about half a season. It was amazing to play with guys I had watched on television. However, it wasn’t as fun as playing at Laurier. I am thankful for the experience but I have no regrets about my CFL career being a short one. The dynamic between the Canadian and American players was also quite fascinating.
(DM): Can you briefly discuss any experiences with racism that you have had to deal with?
(HL): That could be a whole interview unto itself! Yes, certainly I have experienced it often during my life. It has been a constant journey. I remember being called ‘the N word’ in the playground at school at a very young age. I also had certain negative experiences related to that in my football career. My time at Laurier was amazing but still, everyone now and then, something would happen that would serve to remind me that I was not the same as others
(DM): Tell me about your career.
(HL): For eleven years, I have worked for Staples in the Brand & Merchandise division. I am the Director of Business Development. We also work on sport licensing. As well, I am part of the Senior Leadership team of the company
(DM): Tell me about your involvement with some panels at WLU involving the football team.
(HL): I have been very blessed in my own life to be mentored by family members and others in the community and I believe in ‘paying things forward’. The legacy I leave behind matters to me. Making a difference is important. Thus, I put a lot of time and effort into mentorship, and not just at WLU. I have worked with helping new arrivals to Canada and young black youth in my community. Working with the athletic department at WLU, I have enjoyed setting up a forum to pass on knowledge to graduating players to help them in their careers. I also learn things from them too.
(DM): If you had to pick one person on the 1991 championship team to be the next Prime Minister, who would it be and you?
(HL): Easily, the answer would have to be our backup QB Chris Janzen. He has had an incredible run as a high performance coach and a professional speaker. He has done a lot of work with Tony Robbins.
(DM): Of all the guys you played with, who had the most interesting nickname?
(HL): There’s so many. I don’t know where to start. I guess I would have to say it belonged to Paul Stoppenbrink. He was a fellow defensive lineman whose nickname was ‘salamander’. Let’s just say the origins of that name came from an event at a rookie party.
(DM): What is this fascination you have with miniature race cars?
(HL): My first love regarding sports, more so than football or basketball, has always been auto racing. I remember being 8 years old and my uncle bought me a slot car racetrack. I used to spend hours taking the cars apart, trying to modify them to make them go faster. My dream as a youth was to be a race car driver but I grew too big and my parents couldn’t fund the $250 000 needed to get me into the sport. I used my paper route money to buy a radio controlled car and I started to get involved racing them and I have been doing it ever since. It has taken me all over the world.
(DM): Imagine you are playing golf in a foursome with famous athletes from the past or present. Who would you want to play with?
(HL): Well, if I had the chance to spend time with my favourite athletes from the past or present, I sure as hell wouldn’t waste my time with them playing golf. Watching paint dry is more exciting! However, I would love to hang out with Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, and Gilles Villeneuve (the late Canadian formula one driver). I admired all of them greatly for their respective accomplishments, what they stood for, and their passion for their craft.