There’ll be another No. 10 hanging on the Gryphons’ fence of fame this year.
Mike Shoemaker, a record-setting quarterback who joined the Gryphons the year after Guelph’s lone Vanier Cup win in 1984, was honoured at the annual Gryphon Football Gala as the recipient of the team’s honour jersey.
“It’s a pretty physical and permanent thing, something that when you start out you don’t think of at all,” he says. “It’s a great honour that I’ll be able to stumble in there and watch games for the next 15, 20, 30 years and see my number up there. It’s pretty exciting for me and my family.”
His No. 10, the number he wore for the Gryphons from 1985 to 1989, will hang alongside the No. 10 of kicker Gerry Organ who was last year’s honouree.
“It’s probably just hanging out with the team, just the boys,” he answers when asked what stands out the most about his playing days. “There was a great group of guys there that came in after ’84, after the Vanier Cup team, that was real close, a well-bonded team, with a coaching change in there that brought us even closer together. We remained close friends and for the most part real great people that left here at the same time.”
And members of that group do get together, quite often at Guelph’s annual Homecoming Game.
“There are probably 10 to 12 of us who are in regular tough,” Shoemaker says. “When I say regular touch, we’ve all got our lives so it might be twice a year, but there are 12 to 15 guys who we know what each other is doing and we try to get together whether it’s Homecoming or an event once a year and catch up on what our families are doing.”
Shoemaker’s football career at the University of Guelph almost didn’t happen. A conversation with his aunt, who was a staff member with the U of G’s Department of Athletics at the time, that kept Shoemaker on the football team and as a two-sport athlete.
“I came out of Windsor and was recruited to play basketball,” he says. “Doc Thomas, a famous basketball coach from the University of Windsor, recruited me to play basketball there, but I came to Guelph because of family reasons and Doc told me as I left there that I was foolish to ever think of playing football as I was a much better basketball player than I was a football player.
“So I felt, especially coming off the Vanier Cup team, that I didn’t probably fit in. I was pretty small and not real strong and the rest of it and it was that conversation with my aunt that kind of propelled us. I got on the field and quickly became part of the family and it was easy from there.”
It was a bit of an adjustment going from high school football to university ball where the linemen with the Gryphs included Blaine Schmidt and Grand Goodrich.
“Those were some big boys,” Shoemaker says. “They had just won the Vanier Cup and I was a 17-year-old little boy and they were grown men. It was an awakening experience for me for sure.”
But his football career with the Gryphons soon developed and he would win the Omega Award as the player of the year in OUA football each of his final two seasons. No Gryphon has won it since and only Bruce Morris in 1975, when there were separate player-of-the-year awards for the East and West Divisions, had won it before.
“Every bit of the way I was surprised,” Shoemaker says. “I wasn’t really humble. We kind of did what we did. I look back now and say to anyone who would listen that I had four or five great receivers who could find open spots. None of us were fast. None of us were the best athlete in the league. We all knew what had to get done and we all thought along the same way and worked real hard. I look back on a regular basis and say ‘How did we complete 70 per cent of our passes for 2,000 yards in a season?’ Based on what we were physically, that’s a great achievement.”
In 1988, Shoemaker completed 68.5 per cent of his pass attempts for 2,122 yards. The completion stood as the league record for 24 years until it was broken by Kyle Quinlan of McMaster in 2012 and the yardage stood as a team record for 18 years until Justin Dunk broke it in 2006. The Gryphons also reached the OUA final Yates Cup championship game twice during Shoemaker’s playing days.
More of a stay-in-the-pocket type of quarterback, Shoemaker wasn’t known for his ability to scramble.
“I had a couple – a couple of long ones,” he says. “I always said I was fast when I’m running for my life. I was a skinny kid and at the time I guess there was fear. I could move around if I had to, just enough to get out of the way.”
During his time with the Gryphons, Shoemaker completed 394 of 646 pass attempts for 5,220 yards and 32 touchdowns.
By winning the player-of-the-year award in the OUA, Shoemaker was the league’s nominee for the national Hec Crighton Trophy as the most valuable player in Canadian university football. Fellow quarterback Chris Flynn of the Saint Mary’s Huskies of Halifax won it both years.
“Through kind of a mutual business arrangement, we got in touch probably three months ago and had a few laughs over that time frame,” Shoemaker says. “I went (to the awards ceremonies) totally blind to how big a stage it was. I think it’s part of my personality type. I take it as it comes and I try not to overblow it, but looking back now, yeah, it’s a massive deal and one that I wish I had saved more pictures, wish I had saved more video and all of those things. But it is what it is.
“I hold dear those memories with my parents being there for the all-Canadian banquet and the things we got to experience were outstanding.”
Shoemaker’s son Adam is also a quarterback, having played with the John F. Ross Royals in Guelph’s District 10 league.
“I certainly never have pushed him,” Mike says. “He loves the game and the proudest part for me is that he’s a student of the game like I was in that he’s not going to be the physically most talented guy on the field and he’s certainly not the fastest. He’s probably got a stronger arm than I did at the time and he’s got better feet than I did at the time.
“All I’ve told him is ‘You know what, there’s a great opportunity in sport to hone your leadership skills and to make sure you’re making contact with people that will help you out down the road in many different fields. Remember every person and how they treat you all the way through because those people are going to be around for a long time.’”
The end of Mike’s playing days with the Gryphons was the end of Mike’s playing days in the sport.
“I left here and went and coached in Ottawa,” he says. “I coached and taught -- I was a full-time supply teacher in Ottawa. I coached at Ottawa U, at Carleton and with Sooners (minor program). Then with kids coming along and things like that, I came back and coached with Dan McNally back here for a couple of years (1998 to 2000). I then just walked away from it when the kids were at that age and then got back into it when Adam was high-school age.”
The University of Guelph’s male athlete of the year in 1988, Shoemaker was inducted into the Gryphon Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and is vice president of Umbro Canada.
“I always tell my kids (Adam and Emily) that it’s not luck,” he says. “You put yourself in a position to be successful. I’m one of those people that work harder than anyone else and tend to surround myself with people that work harder than anyone else.”