BURNABY — Late fall evenings atop Burnaby Mountain almost always include an atmospheric wonder best described as a rolling mist.
In hindsight, however, and as a personal witness to the events of Nov. 10, 2018 on that mountaintop campus of Simon Fraser University, we can now reason that the heavy night air that evening was actually karma.
It may not have been along the lines of the pea soup-thick fog which engulfed the 2003 Shrum Bowl across town at Swangard Stadium during the infamous ‘Game Nobody Saw’.
Yet standing at field level, its sudden fourth-quarter presence, when illuminated by the banks of stadium lights, was enough to cast a Grade 12 star named Jaden Severy amidst a particularly magical glow.
In fact when you consider the plethora of parallels within the narrative, it was the kind of performance which wanted to make you say that this kid was meant to play football on Saturdays for the Simon Fraser Clan.
That evening, in a Subway Bowl Triple-A opening-round playoff game played on SFU’s Terry Fox Field, Terry Fox Secondary running back Severy carried 17 times for 274 yards and three touchdowns, leading his Port Coquitlam school to a resounding 49-6 win over North Vancouver’s Carson Graham Eagles.
Severy would conclude his high school football career two weeks later in the Subway Bowl semifinals, capping a two-year senior varsity career which included not only highlight plays in the defensive secondary for Terry Fox’s Ravens, but also a combined 2,000-plus rushing yards and some 30 touchdowns.
Yet when the 2019 university season kicked off this past September, one of B.C. high school football’s most dynamic graduating talents was, for the first time in his career, on the sidelines without a team to call his own.
So close and yet so far was a refrain that seemed particular apropos for a young man whose own home is basically located near the foot of Burnaby Mountain.
A SACRIFICE THAT PAYS DIVIDENDS
Making the transition from high school to university is challenging enough from a purely academic standpoint.
But throw in the countless hours required to play a varsity sport like football, and that environment can very quickly become even more challenging.
Yet for Jaden Severy, who does not hide the fact that he has a learning disability, that challenge was real.
“In Grade 12, my grades were there to get to SFU, but I wasn’t feeling super-confident at the time in my learning ability,” he says. “I have a learning disability so school has always been a hard aspect for me to get my ideas down onto paper. I just wanted to make sure I felt confident going into university being able to play football and go to school.”
And thus Severy made a bold decision.
In order to give himself the best shot possible at a longterm university football career, he needed to first dip his toes and test the waters, and it would mean putting football on the shelf for one season.
Yet as he enrolled in classes at New Westminster’s Douglas College this past September, he still found a way to keep his athletic chops sharp.
Severy had taken up rugby for the first time over the spring semester of his senior year at Terry Fox and he loved it.
So while at Douglas College, he played with the Coquitlam-based United Rugby Club. There, he continued to build on the amazing summer he had enjoyed, where despite his neophyte status in the 15-man game, he had earned a spot on Team B.C.’s Under-17 provincial squad, later competing with them at the Western Canadian championships.
“For a kid to have faced the adversities he’s faced, and then to come away with his opportunity to play football in university has been huge,” marvelled Simon Fraser recruiting coordinator and defensive secondary coach Jordan Linnen of the fact that the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Severy will officially join the Clan this fall.
“Watching him over his year off from football, and how he has handled things like an adult, he’s shown us all that as long as you focus on your goals, there will be endless opportunity for you. He hasn’t taken ‘No’ for an answer.”
And although it might have seemed most logical to project Severy’s football future at running back, based on the volume of his statistical accomplishments in high school, all of those who have watched him play agree that his enviable mental/physical skill set is best-suited to the cornerback position.
And you can count Severy himself among that group.
“I think in the back of my head it’s always been the defensive side, and in the past my coaches have always told me I could be a pretty good defender because of how lanky I am,” explained Severy, who during the offseason continues to be mentored by defensive backs guru Jordan Liberman, who has coached up the secondaries at Fox, as well as at both Simon Fraser and UBC and last season was the defensive coordinator with the Notre Dame Jugglers. “When I was in Grade 11, he told me I was going to be a corner in university.”
And if you had the opportunity to watch Severy play, you know just how he earned his nickname.
“We call him J Smooth,” laughs longtime Terry Fox coach Martin McDonnell. “He is so smooth in the way he runs and tracks the ball, and he’s got a sixth sense. Jaden has the speed to turn his hips and still get back and make a play. He is a real burner when it comes down to it. He’s so smooth running that you don’t think he’s going fast until he passes you. He has a sprinter’s stuff. You don’t even see his head bobbing. It’s just smooth. J Smooth.”
GETTING READY TO MAKE THE NEXT TACKLE
As the Clan’s recruiting coordinator and its defensive backs coach, Jordan Linnen (a B.C. high school grad himself via Surrey’s Frank Hurt Secondary) can’t help but be taken by Severy’s story.
“There is stuff there that you don’t see every day, but the thing that makes him great is that he is willing to learn,” begins Linnen, who references Severy’s foray into rugby and his subsequent rapid success. “He didn’t know that sport, but he did things that would take most kids five or six years to learn because of that willingness. He wants to learn nuances, to watch film and get better. A lot of kids rely on athleticism. Jaden has it but he doesn’t rely on it.”
It will make him a vital addition to the Clan defensive backfield, a young but deep group led by rising sophomore cornerback and GNAC Freshman of the Year Jerrell Cummings, the Notre Dame product who started every game last season as a pure freshman.
While former Lord Tweedsmuir Panther standout Dawson Marchant, who started every game as a redshirt freshman on the opposite corner last season, will be sorely missed as he transfers to the OUA’s Western Mustangs, the team had nine other returning players listed on its 2019 roster, including a trio of safeties — rising juniors Kolby Buljevic (Burnaby-St. Thomas More) and Brendan Lowry (Okotoks, AB-Foothills Composite), and rising sophomore Evan Currie (North Vancouver-Handsworth) — who made 15 of the 20 available starts at both the free and strong positions.
As well, among the program’s 27-player incoming freshman class, Severy is one of five defensive backs within a field which also includes his former Terry Fox teammate Kyle Huish, Haydn Stomperud from Lord Tweedsmuir, Morgan Cavalier, who doubled as the quarterback at Bellingham High, and Johari Hastings from Toronto’s Chaminade Prep.
What’s clear, what’s never been a mystery, is that the competition to earn a starting spot will be fierce.
It’s what has Linnen, head coach Mike Rigell and defensive coordinator and associate head coach Taylor Summers so excited and hopeful for the 2020 season.
“What drew us to recruit him here beyond his senior year (of high school) was how much he wanted to show himself that he could play college football and still strive towards getting a degree, and that is something that is so important to him and his mom,” Linnen said in also referencing Becky Severy, who in her own high school days was a member of the two-time B.C. AAA senior girls basketball champions (1986-87, 1987-88) from Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary. That team’s two-year run later merited induction into the Coquitlam Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.
“The thing about Jaden and guys like him, is they have an unintentional but yet still very intentional aura, an energy that radiates off of them in how they make other people feel,” Linnen adds. “He is always seeing things as positive, and that is something which you can never under-value.”
Truer words could not be spoken.
In fact, as Severy got more accustomed to playing without a helmet for the United Rugby Club last season, he seemed to find a way to turn every experience into a way to make him, in the end, a better football player.
“I knew that the next level of football that I wanted to play, against teams from the states with Simon Fraser, was going to be a whole lot faster than high school,” he acknowledges. “I wanted to get used to a faster pace, and in rugby, everything is go, go, go.”
To be more precise, in his new football identity as a fulltime cornerback, Severy knew he needed to “deal with more open-space tackles.”
And as he discovered, rugby was the perfect place to maximize his reps.
Yet leave it to him to not only describe that process, but at the same time unwittingly speak to his own credo beliefs.
“In football, as soon as you make the tackle, the play is obviously over,” he says. “But in rugby, you have to keep getting up off the ground, and you have to chase the guy. You always have to be in position to make the next tackle.”
Next time you find yourself facing some adversity, you may want to reference Jaden Severy.
After all, isn’t life all about having to get up off the ground again and again?
And isn’t life all about having to make that next tackle?
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