By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
Life was simple for the Bandits, a group of McMaster Marauder offensive second-teamers who would laugh, chat and eagerly await first-team opportunities on the sidelines during OUA football games last season.
Front and centre were Kitchener natives Dahlin Brooks and Tyler Loveday, a pair of former Forest Heights students, along with Ben O’Connor, Spencer Moore, Gary Spero and Jimmy Hill.
Special teams was their forte, so too was keeping things light for Hamilton’s university team. Brooks and Loveday would banter back and forth, boasting who would make the first catch or who would score the first touchdown.
“Which was fun, especially because of where we ended up,” said Brooks, a third-year slotback and former Trojans quarterback. “Man, what a year.”
It helped the weeks fly by and kept the group grounded in what ended up being delightfully distracting 2011 season — a Yates Cup victory over the favoured Western Mustangs and the first Vanier Cup title in McMaster University history.
A journey that Brooks said was “unreal” also included fellow Forest Heights grad Michael Daly en route to a 41-38 overtime victory over the powerhouse Laval Rouge et Or at B.C. Place last November in Vancouver.
“We knew we had something special at the start of the year, everyone could feel it, but most of all it was desire,” Brooks said. “Everyone knew what we were capable of and wanted to be the best. That was a lot of fun going through it.”
The Trojan trio made their triumphant return to the local gridiron on Saturday as Brooks and Loveday scored their first OUA touchdowns in a 68-21 victory over the Waterloo Warriors.
In their third year of CIS eligibility, Daly, Loveday and Brooks continue a long line of local players and coaches who have helped make the Marauders into one of the top university football programs in the province.
McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek won Vanier Cup championships as a player and coach at Wilfrid Laurier University. Defensive co-ordinator Greg Knox was also part of the 1991 national championship team.
Kitchener’s Delmar Miller and Conner Mackay wait in the wings as members of the inactive roster.
Daly and Brooks, meanwhile, came to McMaster after playing on the same Forest Heights football teams throughout high school. Not long after, Loveday, whose brother is also attending McMaster and is an offensive assistant with the Marauders, joined them via a transfer from the University of Ottawa.
It made the trip to the Vanier Cup last fall all the more special for the three, who won an Ontario Football Conference championship with the Twin Cities Predators in 2009.
The Marauders were humbled in Week 2 of the 2011 schedule, falling 48-21 to the Mustangs, but won their remaining regular season and playoff games en route to the OUA and CIS finals.
Facing the Mustangs on the road in London, the Marauders prevailed 41-19 to win the Yates Cup despite a brief Western blitz in the fourth quarter. Up until then, Daly, McMaster’s starting safety, wasn’t even sure if the team was capable of Vanier Cup contention.
“Maybe after that Western game we were like, ‘OK, maybe this can go a little further, this could get a little bit better,’” he said. “But we were so focused in on every week, it kind of just fell into place.”
Now they hope to harness the same effort and focus that propelled McMaster to its first Vanier Cup appearance since 1967.
Despite injuries to All-Canadian receiver Michael DiCroce and starting running back Chris Pezzetta, Daly believes the Marauders have the horses for another contending season. It showed Saturday as eight different offensive players found the end zone against Waterloo.
At the same time, Daly and Brooks said the Marauders need to stick to their determined focus on improvement each week.
Regardless, Brooks recognizes the fact the three were part of something special last season. Although a shot at a Vanier Cup title was always in the back of his mind, Brooks wasn’t sure if winning one was a realistic goal.
“When I first came in, I didn’t know what we were capable of, but it was fun, especially to do it with Tyler and Mike,” Brooks said. “To achieve something like that is pretty amazing.”