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OCTOBER 24TH 1975 - A DAY I'LL REMEMBER FOREVER

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OCTOBER 24th 1975 - A DAY I'LL REMEMBER FOREVER

By JOHN WILLIAMS

October 24th 1975 was 45 years ago today. But I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Friday, sunny, 20 degrees Celsius - not a cloud in the sky.

I was in my second year of grade 13, age 19, having gone back for an extra year of high school to play sports. I was also in my fifth year of high school football and my fourth year of senior competition.

We were hosting the John F. Ross Royals, our cross-town rivals, that afternoon in a game we had to win to make the playoffs. It would be my final, regular season game of high school ball.

I had started my football career four years earlier in grade 10. I was a 15-year-old junior, having overcome a gruesome knee injury two years earlier in the eighth grade to be able to play high school ball. It took me awhile to acquire the basics of blocking, tackling and pass receiving as I worked out at the defensive end and tight end positions.

Unfortunately, I was one of eight players cut from the team in early September of 1971. However, I was the only player of the eight who stayed with it, determined to make the team. And I did.

I played briefly in one game before injuring my knee in practice the next day. I was finished for the season. Just the same, I attended every practice and game after that to learn as much as I could.

It would pay off as I made the senior team the following year. I saw very little action until our final game against North Wellington on October 20th, 1972. I played the entire second half at DE and recorded a quarterback sack. The year of commitment the previous season really paid off.

I couldn't parlay that success the following season. But I did manage an open-field tackle on special teams and the recovery of an on-side kick. The coach however, had the audacity to tell me to "pack it in" I really didn't have it. I don't think he realized who he was dealing with. After all, I had been elected "honorary team captain" by my peers for the 1973 campaign, based on my work ethic and commitment to the sport.

In the fall of 1974, my fifth year of high school, my dedication paid off as I made the team as a DE. I started several games as well as went both ways against Ross as a DE and TE. I caught my first pass in that game, a 20-yard completion over the middle. It would be my first of four career receptions and a prelude of what was yet to come.

Two games later, I caught a two-point convert in a win over Fergus. My teammates all came rushing into the end zone to congratulate me.

The 1974 season ended with a loss to John F. Ross in the playoffs. I knew however, that I would be returning the following year for a fifth season of high school football.

It was early September of 1975 that we began training. I missed the first game after dislocating my baby finger catching a pass in practice (that's how hard our quarterback Don Gibbons could throw the ball.)

I struggled upon my return at the DE position. Maybe I felt the pressure knowing this would be my final season.

I brought it all together in our second last game of the season against Bishop Macdonnell high school. I played brilliantly at the DE position making a head-on tackle and setting up a QB sack. We won the game 16-12 and set up a do-or-die showdown the following Friday. I practised all week at the TE position receiving passes from Don Gibbons. It showed how much I had improved over the years by doing justice to two positions.

IT WAS OCTOBER 24TH 1975. I was introduced at our noon pep rally as a starting TE. The game kicked off with John F. Ross at 2 pm. It was hard hitting and fast paced but I was in step on every play.

It was the middle of the third quarter and we trailed 18-7. Don called for a pass play that had me running straight down the right side of the field - a fly pattern. For some reason the Royals left me wide open and Don saw this. He hit me with a beautiful 25-yard pass that I caught in stride. I sprinted another 25 yards for the TD and our bench went crazy.

Every single teammate hugged me and shook my hand. Although we lost the game, the TD reception was the absolute highlight of my high school career. It made a return to school for a sixth year very worthwhile.

But my high school football experience wasn't over. In June of 1976 I attended the Hamilton Tiger Cats, week-long camp for high school players at the former Ivor Wynne Stadium. I registered as a TE and I'm really glad that I did. I caught two beautiful passes in scrimmage, the second a one-hander.

I also worked out catching passes from various QBs in open-field drills. I'm not kidding: "IF I COULD TOUCH THE BALL I COULD CATCH IT." I was in seventh heaven training on the same haloed astro turf as my Tiger Cat heroes.

The six-day camp would be the last time I would play full contact football. The memory however, coupled with October 24, 1975 would last me a lifetime.

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