VANCOUVER — If the reports from training camp carry over into the regular season, then a popular touchdown anthem at Thunderbird Stadium this fall is going to be a sound bite of the line ‘Sugar, Sugar’ from that infectious 1969 bubble-gum pop smash by The Archies.
“Back when I was younger, once I got my moves down, one of my coaches said ‘Your feet are so sweet, I’m going to call you Sugar Shane, just like the boxer (Shane Mosley),’” first-year UBC running back ‘Sugar’ Shane Noel laughed Monday. “You can spell it S-U-G-A, or you can add the R on the end.”
Regardless, there is a pronounced tone of anticipation in the voice of ‘Birds head coach Blake Nill when Noel’s name in mentioned.
“Shane is an extraordinarily quick and fast athlete, and our coaches are also raving about his pass-catching ability,” said Nill of Noel, already two years out of high school, but at age 19 still waiting to make his first official college football carry. “I really believe he’s a difference maker. I think he’s ready to come in here and impact immediately.”
That could come as early as Wednesday evening in Kamloops (6 p.m., Kamloops-Hillside Stadium) where UBC, itching to get back to Vanier Cup-contending status, faces the Alberta Golden Bears in the lone Canada West preseason game for both teams. UBC opens the regular season Sept. 1 at Regina, then plays its home opener against Manitoba on Sept. 9.
For Noel, who deepens an offensive backfield led by returning veteran Ben Cummings (794 yards, 3 TDs in 2016), the opportunity to contribute couldn’t come a second sooner.
After rushing for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns as a high school senior in 2014, Noel spent 2015 in Connecticut at Loomis Chaffee Prep, setting the stage to sign at NCAA Div. 1 San Diego State in 2016.
Yet when he arrived at what he presumed would be his dream destination, he says he came to the realization that it didn’t jibe with him. He wound up sitting out the entire season.
“I have a real passion for the game and I want to play at the highest level,” said the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Noel, “but when I got there, I wasn’t getting the right vibe or the right energy from the coaches and the players. So I just said to myself ‘Why can’t I just make things happen from my own city? Why can’t I do big things here (at UBC) and contribute to an already-amazing program.”
UBC starting quarterback Michael O’Connor got the ball rolling at the Point Grey campus when he transferred from Penn State to UBC in time to lead the ‘Birds to the 2015 national title.
And this past spring, Kelowna basketball standout Grant Shephard stopped looking at Div. 1 NCAA opportunities to play at UBC.
Noel, who turned down the likes of Oklahoma State and Montana, makes it sound like a revolution has begun.
“It stings a little bit,” Noel says of the Div. 1 disillusionment he felt. “But when I reflect back on it, I have picked a school with great academics that plays in a conference which produces pros for the CFL and the NFL. I’d like to try to change the culture, kind of start a new wave that says you don’t have to play Div. 1 in order to get to the highest level.”
Adds Nill: “Of course the NCAA has massive intrigue with huge crowds and full scholarships, and that is very enticing to anyone, coaches included. But when you get down there, it’s the same thing we expect up here in Canada. You have to have the same mindset to compete and overcome. A lot more are saying ‘I can accomplish the same outcomes in Canada than I could in the U.S.’”
UBC, in fact, has given Noel a lot to think about from the moment he left for prep school in 2015, the same season his future team went on a magical run to capture the Vanier Cup.
“My cousin, (defensive back) Malcolm Lee, was on the team, and at the same time I was being recruited by all of these Div. 1 teams,” remembers Noel. “(Former Birds) Terrell Davis and Taylor Loffler were balling out, and a part of me was saying ‘I could be back at home and part of something great.’ That was always in the back of mind.”
Now, he’s joined no less than five former STM teammates at UBC in Kieran Janes, JJ Deslauriers, Dante Vigini, Lee and Nico Repole.
And of course, as a lean-and-mobile offensive line rounds into shape, UBC may have, along with Kory Nagata, the deepest offensive backfield in Nill’s blue-and-gold tenure.
“Ben is a close friend and there is a lot I can learn from him,” says Noel of Cummings. “I hope he can feed off me, too. I hope we play off each other well with our different running styles.”
You’ve got to ask? His nickname says it all.
“What’s the same about my game is my ability to make defenders miss,” he says. “But what’s different is my size. I am stronger now. I have more power and I am not afraid to run through someone when I have to.”
Just like the boxer, Sugar Shane Noel has a jab, only his comes from a jab step.
And his punch?
It comes in the form of a hip shake, a tackle-breaking burst and a swift run to the end zone.
Cue the music.
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