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Alberta’s Aundrey Webster comes into contact with Acadia’s Harland Hasting. (Remi Lu / CIS)

Four Redmen players represent McGill at annual East-West Bowl

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On Saturday, May 14, McGill hosted the 14th annual East-West Bowl, an all-star game and showcase featuring the season’s top football prospects from Canadian universities. Four McGill players entering their senior year played with and against rival CIS talent from around the league. Offensive lineman Qadr Spooner, defensive back Charles-William Tremblay, linebacker Eric Gracioppo, and receiver Jonathan Mack all trained and played in front of CFL scouts and coaches for the course of a week. This culminated in the East-West Bowl as Spooner, Tremblay, and Gracioppo lined up for the East team while Mack played for the West.

Redmen Head Coach Ronald Hilaire, who led the organization of the event, was pleased with the week’s proceedings.

“I’m very happy that we got to host it for the second year and I think we did a better job than we did the first year,” Hilaire said. “That was the plan going in—give these kids a great experience and the chance to play with some good CIS coaching and CFL coaching.”

The West ultimately prevailed 29-16 on the back of precise passing under pressure from Quarterback Asher Hastings of McMaster University, who led the CIS with 31 touchdowns in the 2015 season. He connected with wideout and offensive player of the game Tylor Henry, of the University of Alberta, for two touchdowns. In the third quarter, Hastings hit well-covered UBC wideout Alex Morrison on a 43-yard out-route with the ball on a string. It was a truly impressive showing from the quarterback and his receivers.

Despite Hasting’s success, The East managed to put a good amount of defensive pressure on the West’s QBs. The East, anchored by Gracioppo at middle linebacker and Tremblay in the backfield, engineered four sacks for a loss of 27 yards. Tremblay had a characteristically aggressive showing with 4.5 tackles and Gracioppo was key in pressuring the passer. For the West, Mack had a reception for 9 yards.

It was a good opportunity to play against great players and learn from a lot of great people, both CFL and from around the league.

The East had some success on offence with their Offensive-Player-of-the-ame—Montreal running-back Sean Thomas-Erlington—rushing for 93 yards. His nine carries came behind Spooner at left tackle, who had an intriguing on-going battle with the West’s defensive lineman, Kwaku Boateng of Wilfrid Laurier University.

The result of the game was inconsequential in comparison to the experience the players had during the week.

“Honestly, it’s a pleasure,” Spooner said. “It was a good opportunity to play against great players and learn from a lot of great people, both CFL and from around the league.”

Playing in front of scouts did not perturb the McGill players, who were able to take away valuable lessons from the week.

“It is really good to learn how to work under pressure, you are always being observed, and just keep your cool,” Gracioppo said. “We have been [playing Football], some of us for 15 years. The game hasn’t really changed, but we can always get better. So, we focused on being calm and playing your game.”

There was also strong competition between the players who came from various CIS programs.

“Honestly, it brings out the intensity,” Spooner said. “You want to push even harder [in the camp] and you get to learn from each other and push each other. And when you see each other in the season, it makes it a little more competitive.”

Hilaire was ultimately pleased with the proceedings of the day. It provided valuable experience to the four athletes going forward.

“For our players that participated, they got some good coaching and good confidence going into their fourth year,” Hilaire commented. “I think every player on [the McGill Redmen] team is a good leader—we preach a family environment—but obviously those four players have pretty special talents and we were happy that they were able to well-represent McGill.”

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