Less than a full year removed from playing his final high school game with East Van's Notre Dame Jugglers, Simon Fraser freshman cornerback Jerrell Cummings (8) came into Saturday's GNAC clash against Western Oregon tied for the conference lead in passes defended this season. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)
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Simon Fraser football 2019: Greenhouse growth spirals among Clan freshmen like cornerback Jerrell Cummings

BURNABY — He caught a touchdown pass on the turf at B.C. Place Stadium in his final high school game last Nov. 17 for East Vancouver’s Notre Dame Jugglers.

Late Saturday afternoon, less than 365 days after that 35-21 Subway Bowl quarterfinal round loss to the Terry Fox Ravens, Jerrell Cummings walked off the field at Swangard Stadium with his new Simon Fraser Clan teammates, more than excited to describe, from his perspective, the true meaning of the whirlwind journey he’s made to the collegiate football ranks.

“Honestly, it feels like I have had like five years put into me after this one season,” said Cummings, disappointed after his team’s 45-14 loss to visiting Western Oregon (6-3, 4-1 GNAC), yet enthused about how both he and a large class of freshmen have helped SFU (1-8, 1-4 GNAC) begin to turn the tide back to respectability with one more game remaining in its season. “Experience-wise, that’s what this feels like.”

After snapping a lengthy losing streak against Div. 2 competition two weeks ago with a 24-17 win at Azusa Pacific, Saturday’s loss to a vaunted Western Oregon team was a reminder that the Clan’s road to a football turnaround wasn’t about to happen on the backs of just one win.

And as the team heads into a bye week ahead of its season-finale Nov. 16 at home to Central Washington, it’s as much about celebrating the legacy left by the team’s graduating seniors as it is looking ahead to the future based on the rising talents of freshmen like Cummings.

On an island as a freshman, Jerrell Cummings has played fearlessly at cornerback for the 2019 Clan. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

“When I was recruiting Jerrell, I said ‘I don’t promise anything,’” SFU head coach Thomas Ford said after Saturday’s game. “But I told him that what I could promise him was ‘If you do what you do on your film, and you understand our schemes, you are going to have a great opportunity to play.’”

Watching him on Saturday was seeing one of the best signs yet that graduating B.C. high school talent not only has what it takes to make immediate impact with its local NCAA D2 team, but also the ability to play leading roles in the process.

Cummings, manning one cornerback spot opposite fellow freshman and 2018 Surrey-Lord Tweedsmuir grad Dawson Marchant, had arguably his best game of the season.

Coming into the game tied for the GNAC lead in passes defended, Cummings registered six solo tackles, second on the team behind another freshman, linebacker Ian Crocker, the Seattle native and former GNAC Defensive Player of the Week who had eight solo stops and four assists.

From starting quarterback Brandon Niksich, through receivers Riley Morrison, running backs Mason Glover and Solomon Hines, and offensive tackle Bailey Elder, freshmen players have played huge roles this season for the Clan.

The risk-reward is obvious, but as it all pertains to the long-range journey, Ford knows his team is taking the right path.

“That is the blessing and the curse,” begins Ford, whose team played solid football for stretches on Saturday, yet were clearly winded by two scoop-and-score defensive touchdowns scored by Western Oregon.

“When you have a really young team that has a lot of talented freshmen, those guys are going to take their lumps but they are also going to grow significantly,” he continued. “When you look at that core group of guys, especially this freshman class, they are going to be in a special class. Those are our guys for the future, be we already know that at 17 and 18, they can compete. With an off-season in the weight room and an actual off-season to prepare, it’s going to be a different look next year.”

Simon Fraser head coach Thomas Ford considers his current class of 2019 freshmen a special group, and part of the reason is a player like Jerrell Cummings. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

The Clan will first take the time to honour their seniors when they take to the field Nov. 16 (Swangard Stadium) to play Central Washington.

On the offensive side of the ball, the five are receivers Rysen John and Kester Iwunze, along with quarterback Mihai Lapuste, and guards Stephane Tanguay and Tyler Wood, 

And the four on the defensive side are safety Matt Duda, ends Kieran Testa and Emilio Cantagallo and tackle James Pak.

On Saturday, receiver John continued to show why he is the cream of the conference at his position, catching 11 passes for 172 yards, including a nine-yard snare for a touchdown midway through the second quarter.

SFU’s other touchdown, on a one-yard run by K.C. Kircher, was set up by Niksich’s 55-yard pass to John on third-and-12.

“Games like today are tough because we played well in multiple ways, and in a lot of different areas but any time you feel like you give plays away to the other team, that definitely hurts you,” Ford said, referencing not only four turnovers, but two defensive majors, which came off a high snap and a fumble. “And when you play a team like Western Oregon, you can’t give them anything.”

With faith from his coaches and a small core of nine seniors, Clan corner Jerrell Cummings says the 2019 freshman class has been embraced with open arms. (Photo property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Yet while all the adversity of a 1-4 conference season is met head on, percolating just below the numbers is an entirely organic football micro system, where players like Jerrell Cummings are learning the ropes at an accelerated pace.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” said Cummings. “When we played Portland State (in the season opener), there I was coming straight out of high school and starting my first game, and it’s against a Div. 1 team.

“(The freshmen) are all so appreciative of coach Ford and the whole staff for their vision and their belief in all of us,” he added. “And for me, ever since that first game, the seniors have taken me under their arms and supported me.”

There may never be another year in his football career in which the former Notre Dame Juggler grows as much as he has these past 50 weeks.

And if you’ll pardon the pun, Jerrell Cummings sure didn’t look like he had been thrown to Western Oregon’s Wolves on Saturday afternoon.

Instead he looked like he belonged, or to borrow his own words: “…had five years put into me after this one season.”

Notre Dame’s Jerrell Cummings (blue) pictured last Nov. 17 playing the final game of his high school career against Terry Fox in the Subway Bowl quarterfinals at BC Place Stadium. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

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