After losing 29-13 to the McMaster University Marauders in the 2019 Yates Cup (Ontario university football championship), Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Jake Andrews and his Western University Mustangs teammates were looking forward to a big comeback season for 2020.
On June 8, Andrews’ dreams of success this year came crashing down. That day, U Sports, the governing body of Canadian University athletics, cancelled the 2020 national championship, the Vanier Cup, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Ontario University Athletics Conference (OUA) soon followed suit by shutting down the entire football season.
Heading into his fourth year at Western University, Andrews can barely remember the last time he faced a summer or fall without football on the horizon. He took up the sport as a 10-year-old when his parents, Rob and Maura, signed him up for the Niagara Regional Minor Football League program. He moved on to play for the Niagara Generals of the Ontario Minor Football League, and then to the Niagara Spears of the Ontario Varsity Football League (OVFL). He put in time as a defensive back, running back, wide receiver and kick returner, and was named an OVFL All-Star in 2013 and 2015. As well, he holds a number of records in that league’s bantam and junior divisions.
The St. Davids Public School graduate enrolled at A.N. Myer Secondary School, where he also became an integral member of a growing and successful football program. The Myer Marauders marched to a Junior Metro Bowl championship in his first year, and Andrews was named the team’s defensive MVP the following season. In his two years playing on the senior team, the Marauders took the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations football championship, and were considered amongst the best high school teams in Canada. Andrews was Myer’s male athlete of the year twice, and also played basketball and competed at track and field.
Andrews signed to play defensive back for Western during his senior year at Myer. He was one of the first two players of the 2017 recruiting class announced by head coach Greg Marshall, who was certain that Andrews would compete for a starting role from the outset.
When he arrived for training camp at Western in 2017, however, Andrews had been nursing a high ankle sprain he thought had healed. After two weeks on the field it was clear the injury had begun to hold him back. He missed the first month of the season, and when he was healthy enough to return he was red-shirted, so that it wasn’t considered one of his five years of eligibility. He was able to practise with the team, but remained ineligible to play in any games. The Mustangs ended up winning the Vanier Cup that season.
With Andrews in the defensive backfield, the Mustangs lost the 2018 Vanier Cup game 34-20 to Laval. He followed that up with a strong season last year, as Western took an undefeated record into that ill-fated Yates Cup contest against McMaster. His stats over two seasons — 91 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, 10 deflections, and one blocked punt — are quite impressive.
Today, facing a fall without football, that red-shirt year may actually be working to his advantage. The psychology major (with a minor in business management) has two more years left in his undergraduate studies, and currently sits with three more years of football eligibility. That means when football returns in September, 2021, he will indeed be eligible to play. And he is hoping to return to Western for another year after that to work on a Master’s degree.
In a telephone conversation from the house he shares with three other football players in London, Andrews is taking it all in stride.
“I was disappointed,” he admits, “but then I started to look at this as a chance to just catch up on school and to get ahead. It’s going to be weird, but I have to look at the positives.”
He and his teammates have been getting together for some informal runs, and along with his roommates, they have built a fairly well-equipped gym in their garage. Soon they will be able to hit the gym on campus, but at six-feet tall and 185 pounds, he feels he is already in playing shape. He’s hoping the team will soon get clearance to hold organized workouts together in the next few weeks.
While he plans to focus on his school work this year, Andrews keeps his ultimate goal of a spot on a Canadian Football League (CFL) team in sight. He doesn’t feel this year off will hurt in that respect. As well, just before this story went to press, the CFL announced the cancellation of its upcoming season.
“Right now there’s not going to be a combine or anything, and next year would be my East-West game anyway,” he explains, the all-star bowl for Canadian university teams. Andrews hopes he will be invited to that game to showcase his skills next year.
Football runs in Andrews’ blood. His maternal grandfather, Glenn Timlock, played for the Hamilton Tiger Cats for three seasons. He was a member of that team’s 1957 Grey Cup championship team and a longtime member of their alumni association.
“He played fullback and safety,” says Andrews, “pretty much the same as me. We had season tickets to the Ti-Cats as I was growing up.”
Andrews had the unique experience of being coached by Timlock during his time with the Spears and A.N. Myer. Timlock lost his battle with bladder and bone cancer this past March.
The 21-year-old cites his grandfather as one of the most influential people in his life. Because of that, he hopes to honour Timlock by being drafted by the Hamilton Ti-Cats when his university playing days come to an end.
“I want to focus on being the best I can be,” says Andrews. “It’s just what you kind of aim for, to get drafted and go play in the CFL, you know.”