Talks with Hawks: Episode 27 – Jamie Lalonde

     Jamie Lalonde was a much heralded recruit that had an extremely successful high school career at Sir Allan MacNab in Hamilton.  After spending his freshman year at another OUA school, Lalonde played and started at center for Laurier from 2014 to 2016.  He was part of an underrated offensive line that lead the way for Dillon Campbell to lead the nation in rushing in 2014 and 2015.  As well, he anchored the group that lead the nation in team rushing yards in 2016.  During that season, he was selected a 2nd team OUA All Star. Most importantly, he won a Yates Cup. Since 2017, Lalonde has been the Offensive Coordinator at Clarkson Football North.

DAVE MORRISSEY:  Tell me a little about your high school career.

Jamie Lalonde: My experience at MacNab in Hamilton was awesome. Isaiah Guzylak-Messam (another former WLU player who is now with British Columbia in the CFL) was one of my teammates. We went 3 consecutive years without losing a game in my grade 10, 11, and 12 years winning championships each year. In my grade 13 year, we had another undefeated team but lost in the finals, and that fact still bothers me to this day. Paul Hitchcock and Ron Lancaster Jr were amazing coaches. I am forever in debt to them for guiding me as a youngster and teaching me so much about football. 

DM: Tell me about your initial decision to attend a different university.

JL: I had a great relationship with the O-Line coach there.  He coached me at a bunch of all star games later in my high school career.  As well, when I played on Team Ontario I met a bunch of other guys who were going to that school as well. It seemed like a great fit academically and athletically. However, a year later, it just really didn’t make sense for me to go back there so I decided to make a change. Some people didn’t agree with it, but that’s life. I did enjoy my time there though. We went 7-1 and advanced to the Yates Cup. I even got to start 2 or 3 games as a true freshman.

DM: So, after you decided that you wanted to go to a different school, what made you choose Laurier?

JL: During my freshmen year, we actually played at Laurier during the Homecoming game.  During that game, I hurt my knee and I couldn’t return to play. I vividly remember sitting in the locker room with our trainers and the first person to walk through the door was Laurier scout Aaron Rudland. He had actively recruited me when I was in high school and we had a great relationship. I really appreciated that he made the effort to come out of the stands and check on me to see if I was alright. I didn’t fully realize at the time how impactful that moment would be. The next summer I was playing for the Hamilton Hurricanes just to stay active in football and I saw Ruds there. I could tell he was kind of shocked to see me playing. We talked about football and life, but not specifically about coming to Laurier. It was clear that he cared about me and that conversation meant a lot to me. The conversation continued for weeks, and soon after Coach Faulds got involved in the discussion. He had also recruited me when he was at York. I loved playing for Faulds.

DM: The Laurier Offensive Line during your time didn’t get too many accolades, but as I alluded to in the opening of this interview, the success the team had on the ground for your 3 years there was absolutely incredible. Talk to me about the pride you and the rest of your O-Line crew took in that as well as winning the Yates Cup in 2016.

JL: Personally, I don’t think we received the same attention that other OL groups such as Western or Guelph got because people didn’t like the way we played. We played on the edge, right on the borderline of legal and illegal. We never wanted to injure anybody but we wanted to make sure they knew they were in for a long day when they had to play us. We always looked forward to Thursday practices because that was when the 47 man roster would get sent to us by the opposing team. Teams would always dress extra defensive linemen when they played us. Our leader was Irv Daymond. The starting O Line for that 2016 Yates Cup championship team was Marcus Nese, Chris Reddy, Drew Merleitner, Ed Cadougan, and myself. We were a bunch of nobodies, athletically outmatched every game we played. Irv knew it and developed a system and culture where we could thrive. We totally bought in to the way he let us play. His brand of football was physical and fun. I’ve never had so many laughs while working so hard. We had so many great running backs: Dillon Campbell, Eric Guiltinan, and Dre Gordon just to name a few.

DM: From your perspective in the middle of the offensive line, what one play stands out to you in the Yates Cup victory?

JL: During my 3 years at Laurier, we never played very well against Western, and a couple of times we got absolutely smoked. The Western front 7 just flat out was better than us and played better.  During the regular season of 2016, although Western beat us by 20, we played better up front against them and we knew we could hang with them. So, to me, what I remember most about the Yates Cup game was coming out with confidence as a group knowing that we could get the job done.

DM: You could have played one more year in 2017 but you chose not to do so.  Do you have any regrets about that?

JL: I’ve never regretted any decision that I’ve made in my life. At the time, it was the right decision for me. It was time to move on. It would’ve been my sixth year at university (I had to sit out a year after I transferred to WLU). I ended my career playing my best football and winning a Yates Cup. After the national semifinal loss at Laval, perhaps I should have stayed on the field a while longer to reflect on my career a bit. I didn’t know at the time that would be my last game

DM: Tell me how you got started at Clarkson Football North.

JL: I had known Larry Jusdanis for a number of years because he trained me every summer. I give him credit for turning me into somewhat of a decent athlete. That’s how our friendship developed. After the 2016 season at WLU, I was really banged up and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back for a 6th year.  That’s when he invited me to come coach with him.

DM: I know Adam Rita has been on the staff for a few years.  How valuable has his input been for you?

JL: Adam is a CFL legend. He has probably forgotten more about football than most coaches will ever even know. I have been very fortunate to be able to bounce ideas off him and get feedback from someone who has been around the block and seen everything that a coach could see. You can’t put a price tag on that. 

DM: All of us in the football community have had to deal with a year of no football. How have you managed to keep your players motivated?

JL: It has been very easy. We recruit kids that want to come to our program and use it as a platform to play in the NCAA or at the USports level while getting an education. We tell every recruit that their time at Football North won’t be easy. They know they’ll have to work very hard. I think our kids are the type of people who are able to adapt to the covid situation because of their work ethic and drive to excel. When the covid crisis first started, we were doing Zoom meetings and Zoom walk through practices. Later on after the lockdown subsided, we were able to practice a bit before things worsened again. Through all of this, the players have continually engaged in strength training. I think our team will come out better for it. We all realize playing football isn’t a right, it’s a privilege and we all can’t wait to get back on the field again.

DM: You know that I am a big fan of your program, however not everyone shares the same opinion. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the program?  What would you like people to know about the program that maybe they don’t understand?

JL: I think the biggest misconception we face is that we are just a ‘football factory’ and that’s all we care about. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Of course, kids come to Football North to play football. That’s obvious. However, this program teaches life lessons. This program makes players grow up quick and forces them to do the right things and make proper decisions. Our kids get to school at 8am and many don’t get home until 8pm. They complete their regular studies and we have a mandatory study hall. They watch film. They do strength training, and of course they practice. The payoff is the weekly games in the USA. Our guys train year round. They learn how to collectively work towards achieving a common goal. They play 10 games a year on the road in adverse conditions in front of huge crowds. Our players learn how to survive and prosper in difficult situations. To our critics, I would say go talk to all of the following players who are currently on ‘full rides’ at NCAA schools and ask their opinions: Nick Mardner (Hawaii), Liam Dick (Pittsburgh), Justin Stevens (Michigan State), Quincy Vaughan (North Dakota), Kyle Hergel (North Dakota), Tyrell Lawrence (Minnesota), Tyrell Richards (Syracuse), Peter Kemeni (Ohio), Tristan Michaud (Iowa State), Nathan Demontagne (North Dakota), Justin Sambu (Maine), Brad Kemayou (Kent State), and Reignings Awah (Kent State). I have learned in life that if you don’t have critics, you probably aren’t relevant enough to be talked about. We are very proud of what we have accomplished.

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