Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
Jon Gratton remembers his first Belleville minor football game with the Trent Hills Titans.
It didn’t go as planned. Gratton, an offensive lineman who is now 17, was in Grade 6 at the time that he made his debut at Mary Anne Sills Park. “I was pretty nervous going into my first game,” Gratton recalled. “I’m an O-Lineman and I was supposed to be a guard. Right before the game our centre ended up getting sick so the very first game of my career
I’m snapping the ball and have no idea what I’m doing.”
The Campbellford-area resident made it through that initial game and returned to his expected position. It turned out to be a successful first season as the Titans captured the Belleville league championship. “It was a good, competitive league, nice kids,” Gratton said of the Belleville minor football loop which eventually merged into Quinte Skyhawks Football. “I loved every second I was in that league. I liked that it was super competitive, in my opinion.”
Another memorable game was during his second season with the Titans.
“The Trent Hills team wanted me to play quarterback because we didn’t have anyone else who knew any of the plays so that was definitely a little stressful for a bit,” Gratton remarked. Fortunately, he said, that lasted just one game and another player took over as quarterback.
Gratton played three seasons in Belleville before joining the Peterborough Wolverines club football team in Grade 9. He also went on to play six-aside football at Campbellford District High School.
Now Gratton is ready to take the next step in his football journey as he has committed to join the Queen’s University football program. His father Glen, who played university football for Laurier, encouraged Gratton to give the sport a try back in elementary school.
“When I was in Grade 6 I actually didn’t want to play football,” Gratton said. “I was scared to get hit and then I started playing and fell in love with the sport.” It was his coach with the Wolverines, Jim Cooper, who suggested to Gratton last summer that he explore
his options at the university level. Gratton hadn’t considered that he had the potential to play at the Ontario University Athletics level.
Development has been slowed the past couple of years due to limited playing time as a result of the pandemic Gratton got in touch with almost every Ontario-based team and had several visits to meet coaches and players as well tour facilities.
“The big tipping point really was Queen’s just felt right,” said Gratton, who is considering his course options, but has ambitions of possibly obtaining a teacher’s diploma in the future. “As soon as I walked on the campus it just felt like home and felt like the place for me.”
Gratton will bring a lot of size – 6-foot-7, 290 pounds – to the Queen’s Gaels’ offensive line. He’s also used size to his advantage in his other favourite sport hockey. Always a defenceman, he’s played in Warkworth and Campbellford, at both the rep and house league levels, since he was young. “I’ve been skating since I could walk,” Gratton said. “It’s just an enjoyable sport. Just kind of the fast pace of it. There’s always stuff going on. Especially as with the body contact in rep, it really fits my body style.” Size also has its challenges. “It’s a long way to fall,” Gratton quipped. “The worst thing about it is I really can’t hit people without getting penalties.” There are some comparisons between the two sports. In hockey, as a defenceman, Gratton wants to support his goaltender and help keep the puck out of the net. In football, on the offensive line, it’s all about protecting his quarterback and other teammates in the backfield. “I just love O-Line because every single play you’re going to hit someone across from you,” he said.
Gratton is looking forward to the challenge on the field at the OUA level and the challenge balancing academics and athletics. “It’s always been pretty important to me. I’ve always taken school seriously,” he said. “With the online school my grades haven’t always been as great as they’ve been in the previous years, but I’ve been working on getting them back up because Queen’s is a very competitive school to get into.” It will certainly be an exercise in time management, but he’s ready for the test. On the field, he’s hoping to help the Gaels rebound from a loss last year in the Yates Cup, the OUA football championship game.
“The atmosphere of the school is amazing,” Gratton said. “Everyone is so nice and it’s just an amazing school all around. It was the perfect pick for me.”