When Kevin MacNeill arrived at the University of Guelph six years ago as defensive coordinator of the Gryphon football program, the team was seeking a new identity.
MacNeill, interim head coach of this year’s squad, didn’t attend U of G, but he thought it was important to know about the team’s history and alumni.
Homecoming offered the perfect platform for what has become an important team tradition.
“We decided that during Homecoming week, every player would research a past player at their position,” MacNeill says of his first season as a Gryphon. “We also did it as coaches. Then we would report back to our respective units during the week. That’s something we’ve done every year.
“If you know your past, it’s easy to respect it.”
MacNeill once researched Gryphon legend Dick Brown, a Canadian Football League (CFL) player and U of G head coach from 1970 to 1978, who has a football scholarship named after himself.
“Dick was the last guy in the CFL to play with no face mask,” says MacNeill. “And you were not allowed to block downfield on punts back then. So you have 11 screaming guys coming at you, no one protecting you, no five-yard halo rule and no face mask – and he averaged about 14 yards a return. It would be like hanging out on the 401 and never getting hit.
“Dick was a remarkable man. His son Mark still speaks to us and does our Homecoming speech every year.”
Guelph will play the Western Mustangs at Alumni Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 24. The game – to be televised nationally on City TV at 1 p.m. – provides a bonding opportunity for students and alumni.
“They realize that they’re all part of the same Gryphon family, which is incredibly powerful,” says Sam Kosakowski, alumni advancement manager in the Department of Athletics, and Gryphon men’s lacrosse coach.
“Athletics is an obvious place where you see it but it’s happening campus-wide. Whether it’s a mentoring program, networking programs or scholarship events, there’s a concerted effort at making that connection.”
Homecoming weekend will begin Friday, Sept. 23 with Gryphon Hall of Fame inductions for 2016 Olympian Reid Coolsaet (cross-country/track and field), Lou Godry (football), Tara Hedican (rugby/wrestling), Doug Dodd (builder), and the men’s swimming (1960-65) and women’s ice hockey (1994-95) teams. Reunions will take place for football alumni, including the Redmen (an earlier squad nickname) and the Mooney Men (“disciples” of late head coach Tom Mooney). A 20th anniversary gathering will be held for the 1996 team that won the Yates Cup.
The annual Glory Bowl, a touch football game for past players, will take place Saturday, Sept. 24 at the stadium.
Before the Homecoming game, the University of Guelph Alumni Association will hold a reception at the Brass Taps. Friends of Gryphon Football and parents will host a pre-game party at parking lot P7.
MacNeill appreciates what Homecoming week gives to the young men he leads.
“Any time that we can help facilitate connections with our past, it will add more depth to their understanding.”
Visit the Alumni website for event information.