Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
Frankford native Chris Verheyen always wants to be ready to help his football team in any way he can.
“I think that’s key because for football you only dress seven offensive lineman in most cases and five play so if you can be ready to step up whenever you’re needed, it gives you a better chance to hold on to that spot and run with it,” Verheyen said.
That was certainly evident with the St. Francis Xavier X-Men this past season, his sixth year at the university in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
Verheyen switched positions from tackle to centre as the X-Men battled injuries. He didn’t just fill the void, but did so in outstanding fashion as he was named an Atlantic University Sports (AUS) All-Star for the centre position.
“It definitely came as a surprise,” Verheyen said of the recognition. “I started off the season fighting for a tackle spot and then switched over to centre at the beginning of the year, holding the spot down because our centre got hurt. Getting the all-star honour was very nice, but I couldn’t do it without everyone else there.”
St. FX head coach Gary Waterman was pleased to see Verheyen be recognized for his play during the 2021 season.
“He’s a tremendous guy, a hard worker and to see him have that success this year was really enjoyable for all of us because we know how hard he’s worked,” Waterman said. “To be able to switch positions to centre and then play at the level he did, making our calls and being recognized by the league as an all-star, it was a great year for him, well-deserved after all the work he has put in and the patience he’s had.”
In addition to his strong character, Waterman recalled being in interested in bringing Verheyen to St. FX due to his tremendous athleticism.
“We knew he was a pretty good athlete. I know he’s played multiple sports, pretty good hockey player back in the day,” Waterman said. “We knew with that athleticism he would fit in once he got the size and strength and got down the systems. We were patient with him and he stuck with it. We had some pretty good players ahead of him early in his career and he didn’t get down. He just kept working and his time came. Just watching him grow and get better technically and build his confidence up, it was pretty good to see.”
Verheyen got his start with Belleville minor football and played at the high school level for St. Paul Catholic Secondary School in Trenton and at the club level for the Kingston Grenadiers. He’s glad to see the Quinte Skyhawks now offering a variety of football in the area including junior, varsity and minor programs.
While he relished his opportunity in Kingston, Verheyen noted that it’s a big commitment that not everyone can or wants to do, which makes the opportunities in Quinte so important.
“There are good football players in Quinte, and they can stand up with the best in Ontario. They have the proper teams and training, I think that’s huge for the area,” he said.
Now he’s an offensive line coach for the Skyhawks junior varsity team.
“Personally I love it, especially because I’ve had so many people help me out along the way so it’s just nice to give back and help out those who are coming up,” Verheyen said. “I love football and any way I can be a part of it, it’s huge for me.”
One of his biggest challenges as a coach was learning how to communicate different than he would with his X-Men teammates and coaches in order to translate his knowledge to younger players. There was something else of utmost important to keep in perspective.
“You have to make sure that no matter what the kids are having fun because even though at university it’s a hyper-competitive league, when you’re coaching kids they’re there to have fun so you need to make sure that’s being accomplished,” he said.
Verheyen graduated last year with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing and is now pursuing a Bachelor’s of Education degree. He also wants to keep pursuing football before getting into teaching.
For any players interested in advancing to the university level, Verheyen has some sound advice.
“It’s a lot of work and one of the most important things is you are going there to play football, but you’re in university and this is Canada so schooling is very important,” he said. “You do need a great average to get in and then to be able to stay on the team while in university. Being on top of your academics at an early age is key.
“Playing football is some of the best experiences I’ve ever had. To me, football is the ultimate team sport and there’s nothing that can top it, especially when you have a hundred guys on the team coming together for one goal. That’s pretty special.”