VANCOUVER — Nov. 28, 2015.
As far as red-letter days in the history of UBC football are concerned, it was one of the greatest ever.
We’re speaking, of course, about the Thunderbirds’ 26-23 win over the Montreal Carabins in the Vanier Cup national title game.
And while a core group of the blue-and-gold return this season to try to help UBC recapture its national glory, the date and the game in question also remains memorable for at least one new member of the team.
“A lot of my friends were on that team, so I was keeping up-to-date with them and I can remember watching the Vanier Cup in my hotel before I had to leave for one of my own games,” explained newcomer Sheriden Lawley, a 6-foot-4, 290 pound defensive tackle, who on the day in question was in his redshirt freshman season with the NCAA Div. 1 Connecticut Huskies, and in Philadelphia for the Huskies’ game against the Temple Owls at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I remember watching and not being surprised that they won because I had played with and against so many of those guys since I was eight years old,” continued Lawley, who last suited up in B.C. way back in 2012 when he starred for Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Hawks.
“We’re talking about a very motivated young man here,” remarked UBC head coach Blake Nill last week when asked about Lawley and the impact he will have on a dangerously revamped ‘Birds defensive line, one which debuts in the team’s Sept. 1 opener at home against the Manitoba Bisons.
“He is a guy who wants to be the best,” continued Nill, “and he comes in here as someone who already knows how to work hard. With all of that, I like what he will bring to the group in terms of his leadership.”
No two football journeys are the same, and for Lawley, his road back to B.C. has come after spending the past five seasons stateside within the U.S. college football system.
Coming off a star-studded high school career at Mouat, one which concluded after his Hawks fell 41-15 in the 2012 Subway Bowl semifinals to a Mt. Douglas Rams team led by his new UBC teammate Marcus Davis, Lawley headed south, spending the 2013 season at Lawrenceville Prep in New Jersey.
The move got him noticed and he was recruited to UConn, where he spent the 2014 campaign as a redshirt freshman.
Lawley grew into the Huskies’ defensive line rotation over the past three seasons, and while he would loved to have played more, his decision to transfer to UBC was based on a combination of factors.
“I didn’t start but I was definitely in the rotation (at UConn), and this season may or may not have been different,” began Lawley who graduated with a degree in communications from the school known more for its NCAA championship-winning women’s basketball teams. “But it wasn’t necessarily about playing time. It just didn’t seem like a good fit.
“I wanted to finish my career on my own terms, and in November I wanted to be playing for something other than just stats,” continued Lawley, part of UConn teams which finished 3-9 in each of his final two seasons at the school. “I wanted to have a chance to play for a national championships and I figured this was a good choice for me.”
If the cards fall right, it’s not a stretch that Lawley just might get that chance.
Fall camp is not even a week old yet, but if Lawley is able to go about winning a starting spot at the team’s so-called ‘quick tackle’ spot opposite returning star nose tackle Connor Griffiths, then maybe Nill’s claims about the stature of the ‘Birds 2018 front four is nothing but the truth.
“Our defensive line will be the strongest point on the team this year,” said Nill. “Right now, I think the only guy in Canada that can challenge Connor Griffiths is Mathieu Betts of Laval. “(Griffiths) is a first team All-Canadian and there’s a lot of NFL interest already. He creates so many issues, and now you bring in Sheriden. (Lawley) is going to take a lot of pressure off Connor Griffiths and vice versa. Teams will have a hard time deciding which guy to put the extra blocker on because I don’t think Sheriden can be blocked one-on-one and I know Connor can not.”
The rest of that front four?
Among the intriguing names at defensive end include two newcomers.
Thomas Schnitzler and Lake Korte-Moore come in at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of experience, but Nill likes what each brings.
“Schnitzler is a four-time national champ (with the CJFL Saskatoon Hilltops) at end and Lake (a freshman from Ottawa’s St. Joseph Catholic) is one of the most instinctive players on this team. He is just a natural pass rusher and he finds ways to make things happen.”
Elias Rodriguez Sanchez is a newcomer at tackle from the CJFL’s Okanagan Sun that Nill says is “flying under the table” while veterans like Charles Nwoye, Nico Repole and Dante Vigini are on the scene. A deep unit also includes the likes of Jonathan Dorocicz, Shane Desrochers, Henrique Custodio, Ryley Butler and Siddhartha Hundal.
Lawley will get as many as two seasons with the Thunderbirds versus just one more season had he remained at Connecticut.
And while he’s playing on the opposite side of the ball as ex-UBC great Dakoda Shepley, Lawley admits its impossible to ignore how the 2017 standout is making a name for himself this preseason with the NFL’s New York Jets.
“More and more, the NFL is picking up Canadian talent,” says Lawley. “So I think that regardless of where you play, if you’re an athlete, they will find you. The dream for me is to win a national championship, and then see where that takes me. Hopefully it’s to a pro career.”
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