South Kam trio heads to UBC

Domenic Mercuri wasn't sure he would ever play football again, let alone at the highest amateur level in Canada.

Somehow, through pure determination maybe, Mercuri returned to the gridiron, and he's happy he did.

Mercuri, a senior at South Kamloops, has committed to play for the CIS's UBC Thunderbirds next season. He is one of three South Kamloops players to sign on for the T-Birds, along with offensive-lineman Ethan Schnell and running back/linebacker Tyler MacKenzie.

Mercuri didn't expect to play a snap during his senior season after breaking his left ankle in a practice before the Okanagan AAA season started in September.

"I remember sitting in the hospital, thinking 'this is it. I've worked four years and it's over,' " Mercuri said. "They said I would be out six months to get it back to strength."

It didn't take six months. Mercuri was back playing linebacker for the Titans in a 23-12 playoff loss to the Vancouver College Fighting Irish on Nov. 21.

His play there earned him a trip to the Senior Bowl, a weeklong all-star camp held each March for B.C.'s top players. It was there that he caught the attention of UBC head coach Shawn Olson.

It's a good thing Mercuri went, after all. He almost didn't.

"I don't know if I wanted to go," he said. "I heard from other guys who went before that it wasn't that great.

"I ended up going, and I'm glad I did."

He's also glad he has the opportunity to go to UBC with two of his buddies.

Both Schnell and MacKenzie had been looking at Simon Fraser in Burnaby, but both ended up heading to UBC instead. Olson was recently hired to be UBC head coach after working as SFU's offensive co-ordinator the last three seasons.

The three boys are good friends, and MacKenzie and Mercuri go back all the way to their time at Aberdeen Elementary.

"It's very exciting - I'm glad that we're all going to the same place," MacKenzie said. "We're all good friends and I'm excited to keep playing with those guys."

At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, MacKenzie was a bruising running back and defensive weapon for the Titans last season. He said the T-Birds are hoping to use him as an H-back - it's something between a running back and a tight end, he says - or linebacker.

It should be a big change for the boys, going from high school - which uses American, four-down rules - to the university, with three-down Canadian-style ball.

"I've only ever played four-down football," MacKenzie said. "The field's wider (with Canadian rules), and there are bigger end zones. I've never had to play three-down defence. It should be different, but it will also be different to go from high school to the next level."

Perhaps the biggest change will be for Schnell, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound left tackle. In high school football, he was used to lining up nose-to-nose with the opposition's defence, as per American rules. He'll have to deal with the fact that Canadian rules allow for one yard of space between the lines next season.

"I don't know how it's going to be - I don't think it will be that different," Schnell said. "In high school, the guy's right there. Next year, the guy can do whatever he wants to try to get around me. There's more room to maneuver."

Schnell is a big dude, there's no question, but he knows he'll have to get a lot bigger to really thrive at the university level. He's hoping to get up to 240 pounds before heading to Vancouver in August, and wants to eventually tip the scales at 280.

Even with a few jitters at this point, it's hard for the boys to mask the excitement in their voices.

"It's definitely going to be nice, it's going to be more like home with two of my friends there," said Schnell. "I think me and Dom are going to room together . . . so it's not like I'm going out there all by myself.

"It's going to be fun."

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