VANCOUVER — Bring up the name Allan Dicks around McMaster Marauders head football coach Stef Ptaszek, and quite suddenly there’s a big smile and even bigger stories to tell about his diminutive starting defensive halfback.
Come Friday, when the Marauders clash with the undefeated Laval Rouge et Or in the 2011 Vanier Cup at B.C. Place Stadium (6 p.m., TSN), the only B.C. player on either roster is also going to be one of the game’s smallest.
Yet it’s what the 2010 grad of Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Secondary has always done on the field despite his 5-foot-8, 180-pound frame that seems to leave the most lasting impressions.
“I have seen the film of his last high school game,” Ptaszek said of the 2009 Subway Bowl B.C. Triple A final in which Mouat’s Hawks lost 39-36 to Coquitlam’s Centennial Centaurs. “(Dicks) might have made 15 tackles from the free safety spot. (Centennial) were hanging on for dear life. Mouat almost pulled it out. He’s a tremendous football player and we’re just glad to have him.”
As Dicks readily admits, life’s turns, especially on the football field, are impossible to predict.
Just two years into his university career, following a three-year varsity career at Mouat in which he established himself as one of the province’s premier running backs, he finds himself a part of the most dangerous secondary in all of CIS football, one which recorded a national-best 19 interceptions on the season.
“Honestly, I was more of a running back at Mouat,” Dicks explained Tuesday before his team’s first practice on the B.C. Place turf. “I went both ways all the time, but I never would have thought that I’d be a defensive back. Then something just clicked and I thought I could pull it off.”
He has done just that, coming into the game with 20.5 tackles and a pair of interceptions on the season.
Longtime W.J. Mouat head coach Denis Kelly isn’t surprised to see Dicks re-inventing himself as a fulltime defensive back on a Vanier Cup finalist just two seasons into his university career. In fact the first sign Kelly got on how willing Dicks was to embrace change came during his Grade 11 season.
During that 2008 campaign, the team’s star running back, senior Boseko Lokombo, now a rising star at linebacker with the Oregon Ducks, had returned to Mouat from one season at a high school in Eugene, Ore. Kelly looked at the pieces he had and made Dicks, who barely weighed 170 pounds at the time, his starting fullback.
“That was quite the combination,” Kelly laughed as Lokombo rushed for 1,556 yards and 22 TDs, often times with Dicks (411 yards, five TDs) as his blocker. “But Allan was just fearless back there. He was quite a tiger.”
In his senior year of 2009, Dicks moved into the feature spot and rushed for 1,324 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Kelly calls Dicks an extremely quick learner on the football field, and the fact that he’s also an honour roll student in the classroom has helped lead to his new nickname at McMaster.
“I guess I tend to pick up the plays pretty quick,” admits Dicks, a commerce major who is known as The Professor. “I try to be a smarter player against some of the more physical players. Coach Kelly really prepared me for everything, and I owe all of my football ability to what he has provided for me.”
Come Friday, Dicks and the rest of the Marauders’ secondary are going to have to be at their best against a dynamic Laval passing game.
“They are all going to have their hands full with those big, strong Laval receivers,” said Ptaszek, whose team fell 24-10 to Laval in a preseason game played in hurricane-like conditions Aug. 28 in Quebec City. “But if they put the ball up in the air, our kids make people pay if you try to gunsling against us too much.”
Dicks will have a nice contingent of family, friends and former teammates as part of the expected crowd of about 24,000.
And while he never even dreamed of playing in a Vanier Cup in his hometown, on Friday night in front of the largest crowd he’s ever played in front of, he’s going to just keeping doing what he’s always done.
“In the end,” he says, “you just have to play with your heart, and that’s all you can do.”