Last Thursday evening, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues football program held their first annual football banquet at U of T’s Chestnut Conference Centre.

Throughout the night, awards for outstanding team and individual performances were given to members of the roster. The student athletes also profited from listening to honorary guest speakers and talking with Blues alumni.

The highlight of the evening for many was when Mike Steele, offensive lineman from the class of 1978, spoke about what being a Varsity Blue means to him. From 1974 to 1978, he learned the values and tools needed to manage the challenging and unusual encounters he’s had.

He spoke about how difficult it was losing his wife to a five-year battle with cancer, raising five children into successful grown men, being the educator that he has become, and struggling through triple bypass heart surgery. He said that being a Varsity Blue taught him to be a valuable team member in the game of life, to persevere through tragedy and loss with love and compassion, and, most importantly, not to give up.

Some other notable moments from the evening came during the giving out of awards to various outstanding players.

Aaron Gazendam, who punted a CIS record-setting 101-yard punt last season, received Special Teams Player of the Year. Fellow UTM student athletes cleaned up as well, with Justin Marra winning Defensive Lineman of the Year and running back Lucas Gavak winning Most Inspirational and Offensive Player of the Year. Record-breaking quarterback Simon Nassar won the Leadership Award and, lastly, Levi Noel, the only all-Canadian athlete selected by the CIS, won MVP.

The main points head coach Greg Gary emphasized for the evening were about changing the culture of the program into what it was back in 1993, when the Blues last won a Vanier Cup. Being more durable and buying wholeheartedly into the program will be the next steps needed if this program wants to win more games than it loses, he said. Hosting football banquets is a move in the right direction for the Blues, who can realize the honour and privilege they have in being part of a brotherhood.

As the kicker for the Blues, it was a pleasure sitting at a table with six alumni who were part of the 1993 Vanier Cup team. The conversations I had with the group motivated me to work as hard as I possibly can over the next few years. I was proud to be part of the same group as them, and it gave me great confidence that one day I’ll become as successful as them through the skills I’ll acquire during my time here.

The team was inspired throughout the night—events like this can only help our success. Going from the banquet to Friday, when the team put on their jerseys with a newfound appreciation for the tradition and culture of being a Blue, we had one of our most productive practices in recent memory.