Talks with Hawks: Episode 33 – Luc Gerritsen

Luc Gerritsen played running back at WLU from 1984 to 1988. His former Offensive Coordinator, Tom Arnott described him as “Big, strong, and fast with the ability to block like an offensive lineman. If there was no hole to run through, he made one. I think he liked it better that way”. In 1987, he scored two touchdowns and was the MVP in Laurier’s 28 to 15 Yates Cup victory over Guelph. In that same year, he was also a 2nd team OUA All-star and he was voted the Team MVP. He was a 2nd round draft pick of the British Columbia Lions in 1987. Luc is currently a science teacher and football coach at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School.  Recently, I was interested in a conversation Luc was having with Gary Jefferies on Facebook about the recent attention given to the horrible revelations about residential schools so I reached out to Luc about learning more about this awful chapter in Canadian history that many of us sadly know almost nothing about.  Luc was kind enough to point me in the right direction and to participate in this interview.

Dave Morrissey:  Where did you grow up and play high school ball?

Luc Gerritsen:  I grew up in Burlington, Ontario…. in the north end or what used to be the north end.  I attended MM Robinson High School and played every sport available. My primary sport in high school wasn’t actually football, but soccer and I had every intention of competing in that sport to the highest level I could attain. Football was a sport I watched on tv.  I loved the Hamilton Ti-cats and the Dallas Cowboys.  Chuck Ealy, Angelo Mosca, Tony Gabriel and Garney Henley were all my idols as a youth. Later on in high school, Tony Dorsett became an inspiration for me.  He was one of the all-time great running backs.  (Editor’s Note: I remember his 99 yard run in a Monday night game vs Minnesota.  Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpGRoBw59msHowever, soccer star Pele was my biggest idol, and when he joined the North American Soccer League, I was pumped and wanted to be able to play with him.  Unfortunately, the league faltered and ceased operations and so in my senior year of high school, my focus changed more to football especially as my coach started inspiring me to play at the next level.

DM: Why did you choose to attend Laurier?

LG: Steve Bruno from Mount Allison recruited me hard and even came to my house for dinner promoting his team and filling my head with Atlantic Rookie of the Year hopes. I attended the GHAC High school camp for recruiters where I first met with Coach Tom Arnott. Most scouts were corralling around Peter Giftopoulos.  (Editor’s Note: He ended up going to Penn State and made a key play in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. Go to the 3:50 mark of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BraALNeGkJs).  Tom knew he was going down south and focused on other potential players. He watched me run my 40s and kept a good eye on me after that. I didn’t talk to any American scouts but had a few offers of half scholarships to some D2 schools that were mailed to me.  My vision was that I needed to be able to make it in the biggest and best market in Canada. Again some other OUA programs sent letters, but Tom was the only one who really talked to me and I liked him even though he couldn’t pronounce my name and that’s how I got the nickname Luc ( Luke).  (Editor’s Note: Luc’s first name is Lucien). Laurier’s small size was more attractive to me and they had the program I wanted and so Laurier it was.

DM: What were your first impressions of training camp and who were the toughest/most intimidating players that you played with in your years at WLU?

LG: When I came into rookie camp, I was determined to make a statement and things started off really well. I made some great friends like Ian Hoyte and Colin Hines. Then the seniors came in and the real hitting started. I remember running a play where I was supposed to block a linebacker but Kevin (Doc) Holiday, a massive D-Lineman, knocked me backwards a good five feet before I landed  on my back. The very next play I got introduced to Alex Troop who buried me. He just laughed when he got up off of me.  But probably the most intimidating person to me was Dave Lovegrove. He was a special kind of crazy and could hit like a ton of bricks from the safety position.  (Editor’s Note: Dave Lovegrove’s son Nolan plays WR for U of T and he was a 2nd team OUA All-Star in 2019). Things changed after week one as there was no kicker in camp and they started auditioning kickers. With my soccer background and being the kicker in HS, I volunteered.  I could kick a mile but accuracy was not my strong point outside of 25 yards. Regardless I was better by a wide margin than anyone else and so in my rookie year I became the starting kicker. That year didn’t go so well and I missed 90% of my FG attempts.  Punting, kickoffs and PATs were no problem, but I just couldn’t master any consistent accuracy for field goals. Thankfully, they did some recruiting for the 85 campaign and by the end of the year I was starting at fullback in the Yates cup against Western. I still practiced kicking as the backup for games and Ken Evraire and I would compete after practice. We were pretty close in ability but he would usually top me by a few yards. (Editor’s Note: Ken Evraire proudly confirmed that fact!). I would always bug him and say it was because he didn’t have to wear as much bulky equipment and didn’t get beat up as much playing out so wide near the sidelines. We became good friends and there was never any shortage of jabs, especially concerning his ability to write an essay. I don’t think he ever topped my personal game best of 73 yards though.

DM: Who was the funniest guy on the team?

LG: On our team, most of us had a very close-knit relationship and most of us still do to this day. They were great players, but more importantly they were excellent people. I think this connection we had is what enabled us to be the team we were that year. We were big brothers to the new ball boy who became iconic with this team and many others to follow. We supported each other through thick and thin like a family. Comic relief was never too far away when things got intense especially around the O-Line boys.  We called them ‘Coach Happy and the Fun Bunch’.  Billy Bryer and Brian Breckles always had something funny to say. In our specialists group, Roddy Philp (QB) and Rob Conroy ( SB) could always grab a chuckle. Roddy’s laugh was infectious; just hearing him chuckle made (makes) me laugh. He knew how to settle us down and to how ramp us up. He was an amazing leader.

DM: What was your favourite place to hang out during your Laurier days?

LG: Taps was my place to hang out and I also worked security there.

DM: Me too!  I must have started after you left, but I do remember really enjoying working with another one of your teammates, Jon Aikens. 

LG: I worked there for 2 years.  Jon is the nicest guy in the world and he has a really great sense of humour.

DM: Absolutely!  He recently moved out to the east coast.  During your career at Laurier, what was your most memorable game?

LG: I struggle to select the one most memorable game, there were so many: three Yates Cups, the Churchill Bowl in BC (although that one haunts me more than it is memorable), and my first CFL game in the Skydome.  Some games were memorable for accomplishments, some for the importance of the game, and some for personal reasons. So combining all those thoughts, it would have to come down to the game in 1988 against the Waterloo Warriors.  We won the game 29-0 and I scored a couple of big touchdowns but earlier that year, a very special person close to our team and me, passed away from cancer. He was the UW Ombudsman and an assistant coach to the Laurier football team.  Ray Owens was a great man, a friend, & councilor who I was proud to have known. He helped me immensely during my early years, he was like family and the dad I never had.  In this game, the first Ray Owens Memorial Award was given to the MVP of both teams and I was honoured to receive it along with David Shaw from the Warriors.

DM: You certainly had a lot of great games. Current Assistant Head Coach and former teammate Ron Van Moerkerke would say that your most memorable performance was in the 1988 OUA semis vs Guelph.  According to him, you took over the game in the 4th quarter and that enabled WLU to win.  Can you tell me a bit about your CFL experience?

LG: There wasn’t a weak spot on the roster and we had plenty of depth with several All Canadians and OUA All-stars. A few of us had returned from CFL camps which was a real maturing process for me. Being with the BC Lions allowed me to refine and learn many techniques that just were not taught in my first few years at Laurier. I was able to get many new drills incorporated into the practices that would benefit the running back blocking skills and ultimately make us a better team. The following year I could have taken a practice roster spot in Edmonton but chose to go back to Laurier for a final year. Practice roster spots don’t pay the bills. I gave it one more try with Hamilton and could have stuck around on their practice roster but I was accepted into Teachers College at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. In addition, my shoulder was ailing me so that ended my playing days. 

DM: If you were the CFL Commissioner, what rule change would you institute?

LC: Without question, I would bring back the higher Canadian player content rules. There are a few new rules that need to be abolished with the interference reviews and such, but I am very passionate about keeping the Canadian content and making sure this league stays in Canada. 

DM: I completely agree with that!  The only reason I watch CFL football is to watch CDN players.  It is very exciting and satisfying to watch former Laurier players and players from other CIS schools compete at the next level.  Can you tell me a bit about your life after football?

LG: I started my teaching career in 1991. I worked in NW Ontario for a few years and helped coach in the CJFL with the Thunderbay Giants. Then, I moved back to Burlington and started to work in the Halton District School Board, even coaching with Marcello Campanero at MMRobinson where we won a National HS title. As the Head Coach of the junior team, I helped guide the team to a couple of GHAC titles. In 1996 I met my future wife, a beautiful First Nations woman and high school teacher. I was able to land a job with the Niagara Board teaching science and started a life in Fort Erie. Our first child was born in 1999, the second in 2001 and our youngest in 2004. My oldest is set to graduate from Laurier next year. My wife Rhonda is a proud, cultural woman. She has been teaching Native Studies in our school for many years and she is very active in the Niagara Native community. Through her, I had an early knowledge of the atrocities committed in residential schools. Her grandmother and grandfather and other relatives were in these schools. She knew of those realities. The graves were common knowledge and the atrocities were common knowledge. Finding them with technology was confirmation only for the rest of the world. The information has always been there, stories and news reports, documentaries, the list goes on and we as a society chose to accept it and exploit it for the first 150 years and ignored it for the last 30. Many people are asking what can we do?  Well, the first step is to get educated! Read or watch the resources that have been out there for a long time.

DM: Can you provide some of those for me now?

LG: ‘Hidden From History’   http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/genocide.pdf

       ‘The Education of Augie Merasty’ by David Carpenter (former WLU history professor)

       ‘Residential Schools with the Words and Images of Survivors’ by Larry Lowe

       ‘Unrepentant: The Kevin Annett Story   http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/unrepentant-kevin.annett

       ‘Canada’s Dark Secret’    https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/canada-dark-secret

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