50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: 2012
A conversation with.
Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, rush end, Laval University Rouge et Or
In Vanier Cup XLVIII, the Laval Rouge et Or became the most decorated program in CIS football history, capturing their seventh national title thanks to a 37-14 triumph over the McMaster Marauders in front of a record-setting crowd of 37,098 at Rogers Centre in Toronto. With the win, Laval also avenged a heartbreaking 41-38 overtime loss to McMaster in the 2011 final in Vancouver. Playing in the last contest of his stellar university career, rush end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon merited the Bruce Coulter Award as the game’s top defensive player after he spent most of the evening in the Marauders’ backfield.
What was the mindset going into the game, following the heartbreaking loss to the Marauders in 2011?
For us, and for me personally, it was clear that it was all about revenge. The message from our coaches was the total opposite though; they didn’t want to put any emphasis on the revenge aspect of that game. The reason was pretty simple. They wanted us to play under control, keep our cool, and not worry about a loss that had happened 365 days earlier. But in the dressing room before the game, for the players, it was clearly about revenge. We had to win the championship and not allow our opponents to be able to say they were better than us two straight years. It was a matter of pride.
What is your major memory of the entire Vanier Cup weekand the overall experience?
It was our preparation. The best week of preparation I’ve ever been a part of. The Rouge et Or coaches always prepared us extremely well and for me, on defence, coordinator Marc Fortier is simply amazing in big games.
I remember the preparation against Sherbrooke for the 2010 Dunsmore Cup, for Calgary in the 2010 Vanier Cup, Montreal in the 2011 Dunsmore Cup, and of course the 2012 Vanier Cup. We knew everything about them. Anything they were doing, we had seen it. It was amazing. During the week, we felt like pirates, we were going after the largest vessel on the sea and no one knew what our plan was, but it was foolproof. We had unwavering confidence.
The awards banquet was a mere formality for us. Others teams were concerned with individual awards. Us, we just wanted to get back to the hotel and we had only one thing in mind, the championship trophy.
(Note: Gascon-Nadon was voted to the second all-Canadian team in 2012 after being named the best down lineman in the country in both 2010 and 2011, making him the first multiple winner of the J.P. Metras Trophy)
What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?
The game itself is a bit of a blur, I have flashes here and there, but nothing really concrete. What I remember the most is the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the game. Being with my friends and coaches on the field, with our families watching from the stands. Then, it was back to the locker room, where only the team knew all the efforts and sacrifices that went into that championship win.
What do you remember as the key play of the game?
Thomas Girard’s interception in the first quarter was the key play for me. Our game plan was to hit Kyle Quinlan. On that play, three of our players got to him and took him hard to the ground. He still threw a good ball but Thomas made a superb play and literally snatched the ball from the receiver’s hands. We had just sent a message.
Then, there was the pass to Mathew Norzil, who made a great catch and benefited from great blocking to reach the end zone. We all knew we had just taken off and nothing was going to stop us that day.
(Note: Quinlan, the 2011 Vanier Cup MVP, had received the Hec Crighton Trophy on the eve of the 2012 national final and was at the helm of a team that had won 21 straight games overall heading into the contest against Laval, a CIS record. Norzil’s 28-yard touchdown on a pass from Tristan Grenon gave the Rouge et Or a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. Down 14-12 at halftime, Laval scored 25 unanswered points after the break)
What was your personal greatest play or moment?
I tried to stay intense throughout the game. I played despite a tear in my shoulder, but I wanted to show the younger guys that the team comes first. Some might have opted to have an operation right away to protect themselves for a potential career in the pros, but for me the Vanier Cup was more important than anything else. I wanted to leave that legacy to our younger players, like veterans had done for me in the past.
(Note: Gascon-Nadon had previously won the Vanier Cup in 2010, after starting his university career with Rice in the NCAA)
Did anything unusual or out of the ordinary happen during the game or during Vanier week?
During the week, I remember we had to get out of the hotel in the middle of the night twice because of fire alarms. It must have been a coincidence… Again, no one made a big deal out of it. We knew our opponents had been through that a few times on trips to Quebec City!
During the game, the weirdest thing was the demeanour of our defensive coordinator, Marc Fortier. I had never seen him like that before. He was so in control, he was more relaxed than anyone else on the staff. I saw him sitting on the bench during the game chatting with players, not as a coach, more as a friend or a teammate. He was all smiles, and at that point we knew we were going to win. Our plan was working to perfection. It was a beautiful thing to see, I’ll remember it all my life.
Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?
Our coaches didn’t change anything to the preparation, but we had more time than usual because we were at the hotel the whole week, so we didn’t attend classes. Our focus was all towards the preparation for the game.
How did you or the team react to the stadium and the hostile, pro-McMaster crowd?
It was awesome! Everything was just going too well for McMaster. They had a chance to become a dynasty, to beat the big Rouge et Or machine for a second time, and in Ontario on top of that. Everything had been planned for a second straight triumph… except us.
What are your memories of the post-game celebrations on the field and/or in the dressing room?
On the field, there were a lot of congratulations and our accomplishment started to sink in. Those were very special moments. Then, in the locker room, it was among teammates and coaches, and the Rouge et Or family. It was time to enjoy the season we had just been through together. It never gets old.
What are your memories of the trip back home?
I’m not going to lie, I don’t remember much from the trip back. Except our head coach, Glen Constantin, on the phone recruiting.
What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?
We were welcomed by media and members of our families. We were really happy to finally be back in Quebec City. We couldn’t wait to share that title with our fans. We were really proud and they were really proud of us too.
At the time, how did winning the Vanier Cup change your everyday life?
It probably changed my everyday life for about seven to 10 days but then it was back to reality as final exams were fast approaching. The memories were still fresh, we were champions for life, but life continued and it was quickly time for the 2013 team to start its own preparation.
How often to you reminisce about that Vanier Cup win?
Without talking about it much, I think about it often. Sometimes, I’ll even watch film from the 2012 season to refresh my memory, but also to watch some of my own plays or plays from my teammates, and get inspired by them. And of course, whenever I’m with my dear friend and my roommate for my entire time at Laval, Jean-Alexandre Bernier, inevitably, we’ll start talking at some point about 2012.
You were drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the spring, but you decided to return to Laval for your final year. Would you make the same decision today?
If I’d make the same decision? Do you also have a time machine so I can go back to 2010 and relive all my years at Laval?
(Note: Drafted in the third round by Hamilton in 2012, 17th overall, Gascon-Nadon is in his second season with the Tiger-Cats in 2014)