PROFILE-REDMEN FOOTBALL: Small town boy makes big-time plays

If you’re a sports fan, you’ve stayed up at night fantasizing about scoring the winning goal in the Stanley Cup finals or hitting the World Series walk-off shot. If you’re a football fan, thoughts inevitably gravitate towards becoming a speedy wide receiver or a star quarterback. On the gridiron, offence puts your name in lights.

Not for Jean-Nicolas Carrière. Defence has catapulted him to the forefront of the McGill Redmen football team, and to the top of CIS University depth charts. For him, football isn’t about the flash and glamour of offence; rather, the Redmen star linebacker is a throwback player, one who relishes the bone-crunching tackle over the stylish touchdown.

“I love blitzing the quarterback more than anything,” Carrière said. “Personally, getting to the quarterback is probably better than a touchdown. Going after the QB just makes it for me. I think that’s why people put me at linebacker. I just love hitting.”

And hit he does. Last season, Carrière spearheaded both the Redmen defence and linebacking corps, leading McGill with an impressive 29 tackles-3.5 for negative yardage-in only five games. Not only does he excel in the brutal elements, but he is also blessed with impulsive football skills as well. He has striking instincts that allow him to act as a significant playmaker on D. This “nose for the ball” coupled with impressive speed allowed Carrrière to pick up an interception as well as a forced fumble last season.

In listing impact players on the 2006 edition of the Red ‘n’ White, Coach Chuck McMann immediately singles out Carrière as a force in the group.

“I’d like to see Carrière really stand out this year,” McMann said. “And I know he will because he’s been working so hard.”

Humble beginingsMoving from a small farm town to Ottawa, Carrière was weaned on to sports along the same route as many young Canadians – on the ice. But after a move to the more metropolitan Ottawa, Carrière joined the St. Matthew’s High School football team when his math teacher suggested he try the gridiron. Since then, it has been a constant upward spiral for Carrière.

“After getting my first sack, I knew football was what I wanted to do,” Carrière said. “Coming out of Ontario I was recruited by a lot of schools, some here and some in the US, and I ended up getting a scholarship to McGill.”

Carrière, like many of us, fell for McGill over other more prestigious football universities such as Rutgers, which also wanted him to ply his services in the NCAA ‘Big East’ conference.

“I came here for the football obviously, but also for the academics,” he said. “The football program is very solid here, but the academics are fantastic as well. You really are a student-athlete, unlike at some other schools where you just go through the motions. You always need some degree to fall back on. I love it here – both parts.”

Lofty goalsBut Carrière isn’t thinking about a degree as a safety net; he has set lofty, yet attainable, football goals for himself. Last year-despite being suspended one game due to misconduct-he won the Most Dedicated Player and Best Defensive Player on the Redmen squad. This year he has set even more ambitious targets: Team MVP, All-Canadian and a spot in the East-West Bowl, the annual CIS all-star game which is notorious for a heavy professional scouting presence. It’s from there that Carrière now sees himself making “The Leap”-jumping to professional football in either the CFL, preferably for the Montreal Alouettes, or to the NFL, naturally for the gold standard of defensive teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It wasn’t always pro football as the goal,” Carrière said. “But once I came out as a top recruit from Ontario, I realized what I wanted and that drives my work ethic now.”

The maxim in football circles is that defence wins championships. No one is expecting a football parade through the Roddick gates this year, but it’s certain that the Redmen defence will be tenacious and ferocious while led by the throwback style of Carrière.

Two hundred and seven pound linebackers who make tackles in the open field, hit in the backfield for losses, yet have speed to drop back in pass coverage, guard receivers and collect interceptions are certainly a rare breed. Carrière is one such gem for the Redmen.

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