Third-year Gryphon Lukas Brennan felt like he was going back to his roots midway through the 2017 season when he made the switch from defence to offence.
“I started out playing offence when I was 12,” the tight end/fullback says. “My first position was actually fullback and then I eventually transitioned into a receiver until Grade 9. I was 6-foot-1 and 130 pounds and then they moved me to defensive end and that’s what I played up until university. I started putting on weight and looking the build of a defensive end (and I played that position) all the way up until last year when I played defensive tackle and then I switched back. I’ve pretty much come full circle.”
Partway through last season, Brennan was basically a second-string defensive tackle who was also involved in some short-yardage plays on offence.
“I guess the coaches saw something during practices and maybe thought I was underutilized during games on defence and stuff like that and tried to see if something would work on offence,” he says. “I think last year I showed that it can work and we’re trying to develop that this year and hopefully get me even more snaps and more experience.”
Brennan had two tackles and two assisted tackles on defence last season and was used strictly as a blocker on offence. This season he could see a few passes thrown his way.
“I feel like I have decent hand-eye coordination and I did play receiver for about three years,” he says.
Having played both offence and defence, Brennan says offence is his favourite right now.
“Right now I prefer offence just because at this point in my career it was super fun to just start over, get a fresh start and learn a whole new position,” he says. “That was the big thing for me. I like learning new techniques and how to block and how to run block, how to pass block and stuff like that. I really enjoyed the transition.”
Having played as a defensive lineman at the OUA level can be a benefit for Brennan on offence.
“It helps knowing their techniques and what they’re going to try to do against me and the variations of that especially when I’m crashing and blocking a D end,” he says.
The switch to offence partway through last season meant Brennan had a new playbook to learn as well – and the offensive playbook is larger than the defensive playbook.
“I knew the defensive playbook fairly well,” he says. “Since first year, it’s changed but it hasn’t as the basic stuff has stayed in there. That wasn’t too hard for me. The offensive playbook – last year the coaches were reasonable and I didn’t have to learn the whole thing. I was definitely just learning my own position and they put it into pretty simple terms that I could understand it. This year they’ve expanded it and made it a little more intricate, but I have this whole off-season to learn it and I feel I’m picking it up pretty well.”
While Brennan does have the chance to catch a few passes this fall and maybe carry the ball on rushes, too, he knows his main responsibility will be as a blocker. That’s something he takes pride in.
“I know it’s not a glamorous position, but when I see a running back get more than 10 yards or more than 20 yards, I take some pride in that as well,” he says. “Especially last year just looking at the rushing yards, I know I didn’t have my foot in all of that, but it did improve halfway through the season and I did feel I contributed to that.”
The Gryphs averaged 170.5 yards per game in the first half of the 2017 season and they improved that average by 40 yards per game in the second half.
This off-season will be the same as the off-seasons for Brennan as the St. Catharines native will stay in Guelph and participate in the players-run practices.
“We’ll have summer workouts and skill sessions as well where we work on offensive line stuff, blocking techniques and all kinds of stuff like that,” he says.
He also plans to do some receiver drills with teammates in an attempt to get better at it.
As far as his schooling, Brennan feels things are going well.
“Schoolwork is alright,” he says. “As the years go by, it’s getting tougher and tougher. I’m in Philosophy and first-year Philosophy courses are just basic and now we’re starting to get into very focused topics and stuff that forces you to open your mind. It’s tough to balance school and football, but I’m capable of it. I’ve gotten this far.”
He also feels fortunate to have joined the Gryphons when he did as his SAM (student-athlete mentorship) program mentor was offensive lineman Zach Bader-Shamai.
“He was a philosophy student as well and that really helped because there’s not many of us,” Brennan says. “It really helped that I just happened to show up where one of the older mentors was a philosophy mentor. He definitely brought me along and showed me that if you want to succeed, plan all your stuff out beforehand.”
The Gryphs moved into their new football pavilion during the 2017 season and that helped the players with their schooling.
“The best part about the facility is somewhere to go and have a completely empty room to study in whereas the library unfortunately around exam time is hectic,” Brennan says. “There’s no parking or anything like that. There’s nowhere to sit. There’s no quiet spot to study. All football aside, that’s probably the biggest positive about that locker room -- that academic aspect you have to it.”
It’s also a big help in classes that have more than one or two of the Gryphon football players in it.
“I’m in a sociology class this year and 10 other guys (on the team) are in the class,” Brennan says. “We would just all get together in the offensive room with the big whiteboard and start writing concepts down and studying off of that. When you put 11 minds together, you can get stuff down.
“You wouldn’t be able to have that at the library.”
For any potential future Gryphon concerned about combining university football with their studies, Brennan says it’s a matter of proper time management.
“It’s tough, but it’s nothing too much if you put your mind to it,” he says. “You’re going to be able to do both if you have the right mindset, you’re going to your classes and you’re putting in the extra time.”
And maintaining a social life with the hectic athletic and academic schedule is also possible with the right approach.
“The hardest part about it is probably adding the social aspect into it,” Brennan says. “Even mental-health wise, you can’t be doing school, football, school, football. You’ve got to have fun while you’re doing that so finding the extra time to fit in the social aspect, that’s when it becomes tough.”
For the Gryphons, they’re trying to put their OUA quarter-final loss to the Western Mustangs that ended their 2017 season behind them, although it can give them some extra motivation for this year’s season.
“For the most part, we’re not just going to focus on that Western game, we’re going to focus on developing and getting ready for the new year,” Brennan says. “If we can stick together as a group of guys, players, then we can do magic because we have the talent to go to the Vanier.”
As for Brennan himself, it’ll be a good season if his on-field contribution increases.
“I’ll try to earn the trust of the coaches more so that maybe I do get the ball in my hands and maybe I’m on the field for second-and-10s more often than I was last year,” he says. “Basically, it’s just proving that I can be on the field and I