Talks with Hawks: Episode 30 – Austin Reusch

     Austin Reusch played defensive back for Laurier from 2012 to 2015 (Earliest Editor’s Note ever: For some reason, by far, I have interviewed more defensive backs than any other position).  After graduating from Corpus Christi in Burlington, Austin was admitted to the Business program at Laurier and joined the team as an invited walk on. Austin may in fact be one of the nicest, happiest, kindest, most pleasant people anyone could ever meet. For the past couple of seasons, he helped coach DBs at WLU and he has also served as the defensive coordinator for the Cambridge Lions. He is also an amazing golfer and I have selfishly hitched my wagon to his in Gary Jefferies’ annual tournament so as to have a ringer in my foursome. It was a pleasure to have Austin as my subject for Episode 30.

Dave Morrissey: Why did you decide to come to Laurier?

Austin Reusch: Funny enough, football wasn’t even a factor until the end. I was lightly recruited, and football notwithstanding, I had narrowed my options down to Western’s business program, and Laurier’s. Western had zero interest in me as an athlete, and Laurier opened their door late after my high school coach, Mr. Galoni, reached out to Carl Zender (Laurier’s recruiting coordinator at the time) who invited me to walk on. When that happened, I decided to go because I wanted to give football a shot, and I’m forever grateful that I did. On top of that, I really felt comfortable with Laurier’s tight-knit “homey” vibe, and I had a few best friends from home who also were there. It has always been important to me to stay close to people I care about.

DM: How big of a shock was training camp as a rookie in 2012?

AR: It was certainly one of the most grueling experiences of my life. From staying in your small little room with the uncomfortable “bed” in WCH residence, to showing up on the field and getting beat up and embarrassed every day, twice a day, it really tested your fortitude. I recall  comparing it in my mind to the movie “Holes” – being sent away from home to an “institution”, staying in your “quarters” at night, and then waking up at 6:00am and having to grind out in the hot sun all day. Evidently, training camp was tough enough. That being said, one thing that did stand out – and it speaks volumes to the quality of people in the program – was how welcoming and supportive the upper-year players were. You often hear stories about “initiation” activities that make your freshman year even more arduous, but there was none of that. From day one, I had veteran players offering to help me learn the playbook, grasp techniques, and encourage me during the few moments where I did show promise as a young player. I always appreciated that, and it helped reinforce my belief that on a robust team, there is no reason (tradition, hierarchies, etc.) you should ever treat your teammates poorly.  

DM: Talk to me about the first game you started on defense.

AR: What a great question. I was fortunate to get on the roster for special teams purposes during my freshman season, but then I got an opportunity to start on defense in our 8th and final regular season game that year. We were playing McMaster, who was the defending Vanier Cup Champions and had a guy named Kyle Quinlan in his 5th season at QB. Early that week, I was told I’d be starting at the boundary corner position, which as most people know, is a spot where there is absolutely nowhere to hide. You could imagine how nervous I was. The game was also taking place at Mac, which is where my high school career came to a disappointing end, and it also fell on the 3-year anniversary of my Grandma passing away – which added extra meaning to it. Luckily, I was able to make a pass break up early in the game on their patented “corner/bang” concept, and that helped me settle in and play freely. We did get beat pretty good – and I’m pretty sure Kyle set some sort of career passing record that day – but all I was worried about was holding my own in the boundary!

DM: What was the most memorable game at Laurier for you as a player?

AR: Hands down the most memorable was our 2015 playoff win at Mac. It was in my 4th and final season, and up until then we had never beaten Mac, Western, or Queen’s since I’d been at Laurier. The week prior, we finally beat Queen’s at their homecoming to earn our way into the playoffs (scoring a myriad of defensive TDs), which gave us a date at McMaster in the Quarterfinals. Mac had just beaten us 2 weeks prior on our Senior’s day, and we desperately sought revenge. They had a remarkably talented offense – but defensively we were up to the task, and we played like it, holding them to 15 points in a 29-15 win. I was able to make a couple plays at the end that helped seal the victory, which were doubly satisfying because as mentioned, they took place in the same corner of the stadium that my high school career came to an end, and against a team that didn’t recruit me (Editor’s Note: One of the best pictures ever taken by our former team photographer Kha Vo was a picture of Austin after he broke up a key pass. The pure joy on his face was something I will always remember).  To give our program its first playoff win since 2009 by beating a perennial Yates Cup contender was so satisfying, especially considering the fact that just two years prior, we were 1-7 and just beginning to “turn the thing around” under the new Coach Faulds regime.  Honourable mention goes to our 54 to 3 Homecoming win in 2014 over Carleton! What a great day that was to be a Laurier Golden Hawk!

DM: Who was the toughest receiver for you to cover – either a teammate in practice or opponent in the OUA?

AR: I was never very good at covering my teammates in practice, so many of them got the best of me over those four years. Thankfully, those battles in practice are what help prepare you for games. I was also lucky that in high school, I went up against Brett Blaskzo – who was a high school team-mate and friend who got drafted by BC Lions – and Doug Corby – who was a high school rival and got drafted by Edmonton. Brett was long, fast, and physical, and Doug was probably the smoothest natural athlete I’ve ever seen in person. In the OUA, Danny Vandervoort from Mac was the best receiver I went up against 1 on 1. He had phenomenal body control, size, and ran great routes, so it was fun going up against him. Funny enough, I will tell you this: I always found covering in games easier than in practice. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I always felt more locked in and “on an island” in a game, which probably helped raise my game and prompted the “getting beat is not an option” instinct to kick in.

DM: You played 4 years at Laurier (2012-2015). Why didn’t you come back for a 5th year in 2016? Does it bother you knowing that if you did come back, you would have won a Yates Cup?

AR: Wow… hitting me with the hard-hitting questions! I love it. I will say this: I’m a big believer in listening to your heart. I went through a long concussion recovery after my 3rd season, and I wasn’t even sure if I should/could play a 4th. After feeling a strong premonition and receiving tons of support from trainers and doctors that offseason, I was able to get/stay healthy for my senior year, and it couldn’t have gone any better personally. Playing well and helping us win our first playoff game since 2009 was very fulfilling. I felt fortunate to make it out unscathed after some previous injury scares, and I just felt in my heart it was time to move on to the next chapter of my life. To answer the second part: to be honest, it really doesn’t bother me that “I” didn’t win. I was just as happy watching US win in 2016 than I would’ve been playing. I still knew everyone, felt very connected, and couldn’t have been happier that we achieved what we did, especially in such story-book fashion.

DM: While researching this interview, I was shocked to learn that you only had one career interception. Do you remember who it was against, and how many yards you got on the return?

AR: While you are shocked, I am slightly embarrassed! And yes, I certainly remember every little detail about it. That’s what happens when it was your only one! It happened against Queen’s in my 4th year, in the final regular season game that we needed to win to get into the playoffs. It was do-or-die, and I think we scored 3 defensive TDs that day after a not-so-auspicious start where they ran it straight down our throats on the opening drive. My interception occurred late in the game, and I remember when I came down with it, I was immediately confronted by the aforementioned Doug Corby, my high school rival. Thankfully, his high school teammate – who was now MY teammate – Tanner Philp, arrived just in time, blocking Doug so I could muster a return (below). I think I returned it 35 yards before being absolutely engulfed by a massive O-Lineman, which of course strained my MCL. I also remember when I got up, it was right in front of the Queen’s bench and I somehow met eyes with my high school teammate and close friend, Luke McQuilkin, who had a very sad look in his eyes. You rarely feel any compassion on the football field, but I felt a little bit there.

DM: Tell me about your interest in golf, and your fascination with Tiger Woods.

AR: As much as I love football and all the experiences and people it brought into my life, I adore golf. It’s a different level of love. I get so excited to play that I can’t sleep, and I can watch the big tournaments on TV for 12 hours straight (Editor’s Note: 12 hours?  I can’t even watch 12 minutes. I would rather watch one of those channels with the 24 hour fireplace). It’s very easy to get hooked when you were born in 1993, and at 7 years old when you are just starting to follow sports, there’s a guy in the midst of winning the Grand Slam and 7 out of 11 major titles. I’ve always cheered for greatness (my favourite athletes are Tiger, LeBron, Federer, Crosby, Brady, etc), and Tiger’s approach to his sport was exquisite. I’ve long been enamored by his work ethic (google search “Tiger’s daily routine”), competitive savagery and cut-throat attitude, and heart-on-your-sleeve demeanor. It’s easy to become infatuated with the sport and want to imitate everything he did (on the field) when you have an example like that. It is a love (for golf, not Tiger) that Coach Cameron (my former position coach and now friend) and I both share, and we try to play together at least once a season. Funny story: when his playing career ended, he spent a year dedicating himself to becoming the very best golfer he could be, and he got quite good. Likewise, I did the same thing this past summer. I was lucky to land a job at a local golf course, where I got to practice & play as much as I wanted. I committed myself pretty hard to getting as good as I could possibly get, but I don’t think I quite reached Coach Cameron’s peak level. However, I did shoot my best ever score while playing with him! He has a unique way of bringing the best out of me in every sport.

DM: As you know, I scout games in a number of regions. I would have to say that Corpus Christi has the best uniforms in all of Ontario high school football. I’m sure you agree with me.

AR: Absolutely! The all-white, Texas Longhorns-esque jerseys were one of the many godsends of attending that school. I still remember watching the Texas-USC National Championship game in 2006, and thinking how sick Texas looked in their all-white jerseys. Funny story: when Corpus was being built in 2008, my friends and I – who were in grade 9 at the time – attended a meeting with our future coaches where we would be deciding the school’s sports logo. At the time, we were obsessed with the Miami Hurricanes (aka “The U”), and we thought we could make a convincing argument to name us the “Corpus Christi Hurricanes.” Safe to say we didn’t have much success winning that debate, thanks in large part to the shady reputation that “The U” had (and the fact that we were 14 years old). Fortunately, it resulted in us having some pretty sick uniforms, and I loved when Fish (Laurier’s esteemed equipment manager) would let us wear the all-white combo at Laurier too!

DM: I recently learned that one of your high school coaches passed away.  There have been many wonderful tributes on Facebook. Tell me about Nathan Galoni.

AR: When Corpus Christi opened in 2008, I was in Grade 10. I decided to play football for the first time, and I was received by the best group of coaches/teachers that I could have ever wished for. One of them was Nathan Galoni, a brick-house of a man who preached toughness on the football field, and had a special ability to motivate, instill belief, and teach life lessons to young men. While he radiated this intimidating aura, underneath he was truly the most caring, supportive, and loving person you would ever meet (and hands down the funniest person I’ve ever met). As mentioned above, he is THE reason I went on to play football in university, and I know countless other good friends and fellow Corpus Christi graduates who owe him eternal gratitude for how he influenced them to become better athletes and human beings. Many of us describe him as a “2nd Father” – that is an apt description. He is one of the few people that I truly feel like God sent into my life, and I’ll always be thankful for that. We had a special bond. Little did I know that two years after graduating high school, Mr. Galoni would demonstrate the ultimate definition of toughness. In May 2014, at age 39, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer and was told he had 8 months to live. There’s a picture of me at Homecoming (Sept. 2015), raising my hands in prayer while coming out of the tunnel. I was thanking God for many things, and one was for Mr. Galoni and the fact that he was still with us 16 months later. Amazingly, a testament to his fortitude and strength, he went into remission and lived for nearly 7 years before passing away on February 5, 2021. He impacted so many lives in a positive manner.

DM: Tell everybody what you’re up to now in your post-Laurier life.

AR: After graduating with my Business degree in 2016, I began working various sales/marketing jobs. One day in February 2017, I was sitting in my cubicle and I had – no exaggeration – an epiphany: I NEED to be a teacher. Up until then, I was never really set on any one career – I always just assumed I would carve out some path for myself in the business world – but suddenly it became clear as day that I NEEDED to be a teacher. The first person I told that day was Mr. Galoni, and his impact on my life is the preeminent reason that four years later I have become an Ontario Certified Teacher. I had so many great teachers and coaches growing up (too many to name here), and when you’ve known firsthand the impact that educators can have on young people, you feel that there is no more important job in the world. I began teaching this past September, and am back working in the school board where I grew up, Halton Catholic. I can’t express enough how much my heart is filled everyday getting to interact with kids, while also constantly meeting old teachers of mine (I have run into my former Grade 1, 2, and 3 teachers just to name a few!), as well as making new friends with other young, passionate educators. It is because of the great teachers and coaches I had in my life that I am now doing what I am doing. (Final Editor’s Note: As an educator and coach since 1993, I can say with 100% certainty Austin will be incredible in this profession).

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