Building on a foundation: Four Hurricanes take talents to Acadia

After building a foundation at Holland College, four former Hurricanes (from left – Jaylen McRae, Shelton Williams and Eugene McMinns) get set to take the AUS by storm as members of the Acadia University Axemen. Missing from photo: Owen MacWilliams, who graduated from the Sport and Leisure Management program at the college.

By Thomas Becker

They had accomplished everything they needed to at Holland College, on and off the football field, but they weren’t done yet, they wanted more.

Now, four Hurricane teammates are heading to Acadia University to build on the foundation they established in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Over the winter, offensive linemen Shelton Williams and Owen MacWilliams and receivers Jaylen McRae and Eugene McMinns accepted offers to play for the Axemen this fall.

“We’re not only here to play for them (Axemen), we’re here to make an impact,” said McMinns, who was recruited from the Bahamas by Holland College and graduated from the Sport and Leisure Management program.

The quartet grew close to one another during the 2014 Atlantic Football League season, in which they went undefeated, defending their AFL crown. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the fearsome foursome.

At times during the season there were concerns about team camaraderie and familiarity, especially with a new slate of players coming in, said Williams, who was recruited by McMinns to join the Hurricanes and graduated from the college’s Foundation program.

But through the trials a strong bond was quickly formed and a championship caliber team was born.

“At first it wasn’t a brotherhood, but we grew until the end of the season,” he said.

Despite the unbelievable season, all four players wanted more. They each wanted a chance to compete again, and Acadia offered them the opportunity they’d been waiting for. Little did they know they’d be playing together again a year later. It wasn’t until they individually committed to the university that they’d find out that unexpected twist.

“I had no idea these guys were going to Acadia too. It was later all a surprise when we found we were going to the same school,” McMinns said.

Acadia’s compelling pitch, coupled with state-of-the-art facilities, captured the attention of the players. That and a few scholarship offers and it was an easy decision to make, said Boston native McRae.

Acadia’s recruiting effort was in large part due to address their winning woes. Not since 1981 have the Axemen captured a Vanier Cup. And with Holland College’s recent success, it was an obvious decision to enlist some Hurricane talent with winning attitudes.

Jeff Cummins, head coach of the Axemen, said collegiate level players are continuing to impress them with the recent strength of AFL action. As a result, a strong relationship between the two schools has formed.

“It’s been a great relationship for us. It’s a great synergy between the two and I look forward to it continuing for many years to come.”

McRae, who transferred from Holland College’s Business Administration program and will be studying psychology in the fall, said this past year’s experience will pay dividends when they hit the field with Acadia.

“I’ve seen it all at this point in my life. I spent times getting mentally prepared for this and at this point I don’t really feel any more butterflies, I’m just anxious to get out there.”

With their shared experiences, the four will bear some of the pressure to bring the Vanier Cup back to Wolfville, but not enough to lower their confidence, Williams said.

“We can make things happen wherever we go. The way coaches talk to me, they expect us to come in and win games.”

In a run-heavy AUS (Atlantic University Sport), Acadia is expected to go against tradition and use a more balanced offensive approach that is sure to feature the talents of wideouts McMinns and McRae.

“When I heard everyone was going, I thought we’re going to have the hottest offence in the country, hands down. I feel very confident about that without even seeing our team,” McRae said.

“We’ll force other teams to adapt, but by the time they adapt it’ll be too late,” added McMinns.

One advantage the four will bring to Acadia is a sense of camaraderie and the advantage of knowing each other’s tendencies.

“You have to be able to trust the boys you’re playing with. I feel like with us coming in to be impact players we can evolve the team around that,” Williams said.

The four will be joining fellow Hurricanes and Holland College alumni Nathan Conway and Garvin Cius on the Acadia team.

Despite the excitement and nerves of the upcoming season, the players said they’ll never overlook where they came from and what they’ve come to learn from this small school.

Instructors, coaches and everyone in between at Holland College have touched the lives of the four, humbled them, and helped mold them into stronger people, Williams said.

“The fact that they took a chance on me, not knowing who I am, I feel like I have to give them a lot of credit.”

The faith placed by Holland College in these four young men has undoubtedly paid off. They, along with thousands of other students who walk through those doors each year, have put Holland College on the map, more so than ever before.

“No school has ever won back-to-back championships in this league. No school has ever won three championships in six years in this league and no school ever went undefeated,” said McMinns.

And as the men prepare to say “good bye” to Holland College and get set to make their mark on Acadia, one thing they’ll never forget is where it all began.

“I’m going to miss Charlottetown when I think of Holland College. I love this place,” McRae said.

Advocating for football prospects one story at a time.

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