Nothing like not being picked in your CFL draft year to use as motivation for your final year of OUA football.
Last spring Gryphon linebacker Luke Korol had the disappointment of not seeing his name come up on his computer screen as he watched player after player selected by the nine CFL squads.
Rather than pout about it and give up on playing professional football, the linebacker took it as a sign.
“I thought I had a pretty good fourth season and I went undrafted,” he said. “I didn’t sulk on myself. I took it as motivation. I said ‘You’re not there yet, clearly. No one thought you were there yet, so get yourself there.’ So I trained my (rear) off and I just went into my fifth year wanting to give everything to my team. So I trained and trained and trained and every game I just went in with that passion knowing that it is my fifth year. This is do or die and do everything you can for this team and if you end up having a great season and you end up getting picked up from there, so be it.”
Korol was so successful at stepping up his game that he was called to the stage at Creelman Hall to receive the final two awards during the presentation portion of the team’s annual Wildman Awards Dinner. In the end, he took home the Ted Wildman Memorial Trophy as the player who best succeeds as a student-athlete on the field, in the class and in the community and the Donald Forster Trophy as the team’s most valuable player.
“This is pretty exciting,” Korol said. “Honestly, I had no idea coming here that I would receive both awards. It’s truly an honour to be called a Wildman (winner) and to be part of that is something remarkable and I’m just so fortunate to be given that.”
Korol held back the tears as he made his way to the stage to get the Wildman Trophy as his teammates, coaches, and everyone else in the room gave him a standing ovation.
“I can’t even put the feeling into words,” he said. “I was sitting at my table and they started to mention who I was through my statistics and where I was from and everything and it clued in that it was me. I was shocked and I started to get teary-eyed. I was just in disbelief that this was happening to me right now. Ever since I came here as a rookie, I looked at the Wildman as one of the most ideal people to put yourself to and to be put in that category by my peers and my coaches means the absolute world to me and it was all hitting me in that moment. It’s just a crazy feeling and to have my family here with me and they were teary-eyed. It’s all coming to fruition and it means the absolute world.”
Once on the stage, he shook hands with the seven previous Wildman winners who were in attendance: Bill Sproule (1958), Robbie Keith (1959), Steve Stewart (1969), Dan Cornwell (1974), Mark Brown (1978), Sam Benincasa (1983) and Rob Wesseling (1993).
“Just being a part of this legendary group is incredible,” Korol said. “I was just in a daze at that point, too. I was shaking all their hands and they were mentioning their names and I’m just hearing their names in my head and I know they are all Wildmans and I was thinking that this is just crazy to be part of this group. It’s awesome.”
And Korol did get picked up as he signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats shortly after the completion of the season.
Defensive lineman Greg Corfield was the winner of the Tom Dimitroff Sr. Defensive Player of the Year award and receiver Kade Belyk was named the Stu Lang Offensive Player of the Year. Both are eligible to return for a final season with the Gryphons if things don’t work out right away on the pro level.
“I didn’t even expect I was going to get it,” Belyk said of his award. “I was going to say (quarterback) Theo (Landers) was going to deserve it. He’s the one throwing the ball and I guess I’m catching them. It’s unreal. The guys, I couldn’t do it without them and the coaching. I just love it.”
Belyk caught 36 passes, five for touchdowns, in the 2018 regular season and both were career highs. Many of Belyk’s catches came in critical situations and that might have been due to his friendship with Landers.
“We’re roomates so we’d talk a little,” Belyk said. “I’m open on this play. I’m open on that play. We just have good chemistry and it worked out, for sure.”
“It means everything,” Corfield said of his award. “Defensive MVP, it’s an honour to be on the list with the guys who have won this in previous years. It just gives a means to how hard I’ve worked over the years. I feel like I have worked hard enough to win this award.”
Corfield was recruited as an offensive lineman but switched to the defensive line after he arrived on campus.
“In my first year, I just wasn’t the best fit for O line,” he said. “The best fit for me to contribute to the team as best I could was to be on defensive line. My first year I contributed a little bit and every year since then I contributed a little bit more up until now. This year I contributed to the best of my abilities and I’m very proud of where I’ve been since my first year.”
Of the other awards, Special Teams Player of the Year was fifth-year punter/kicker Gabe Ferraro while offensive lineman Colin Jerome was the Tom Mooney Lineman of the Year and defensive back Brendan Murphy was the Rookie of the Year.
The Gryphons also honoured their players who have used up their five years of eligibility: receiver Thomas Bresciani, Ferraro, Jerome, Korol, offensive lineman Eric Starczala and defensive lineman Charlie Taggart.
Also recognized were the fourth-year players: Belyk, fullback Lukas Brennan, linebacker Josh Cassista, Corfield, linebacker Aidan England, defensive lineman Daniel Fascione, receiver Aidan Fraser, receiver Zeph Fraser, defensive back Akeem Knowles, quarterback Theo Landers, receiver Sam Lewis, running back Daniel Palmer-Salmon, linebacker/long snapper Job Reinhart, linebacker Matt Reuter, offensive lineman Spencer Swan and defensive back Elijah Walker. All have one year of eligibility left, but some will move on to pro careers or graduate and join the workforce in their chosen fields.
Ted Wildman Memorial Trophy (player who best succeeds as a student-athlete on the field, in the class and in the community): Luke Korol, linebacker
Donald Forster Trophy (most valuable player): Luke Korol, linebacker
Tom Dimitroff Sr. Defensive Player of the Year: Greg Corfield, defensive line
Stu Lang Offensive Player of the Year: Kade Belyk, receiver
Special Teams Player of the Year: Gabe Ferraro, kicker/punter
Tom Mooney Lineman of the Year: Colin Jerome, offensive line
Rookie of the Year: Brendan Murphy, defensive back
Kyle Walters Trophy (best prepared player): Theo Landers, quarterback
Captains Award (senior or graduating player with unwavering commitment to football program): Thomas Bresciani, receiver
Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Michael Scarfone, quarterback
Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Tyler Thompson, linebacker
Granite Gryphon Award (player most dedicated to physical improvement through efforts in Performance Centre): Charlie Taggart, defensive line
Unsung Hero Award: Aidan Fraser, receiver
Pflug Family Community Service Award: Nicholas Mirijello, receiver
Richard P. Kohler Perseverance Award: Aidan England, linebacker
Support Staff Member of the Year: Alf Conley, assistant equipment manager
Academic Support Award: John Walsh, assistant professor
Riddell High School Coach of the Year Award in honour of Jeff Hale: Greg White, Hespeler Secondary School
Thomas Bresciani, receiver
Gabe Ferraro, kicker/punter
Colin Jerome, offensive line
Luke Korol, linebacker
Eric Starczala, offensive line
Charlie Taggart, defensive line
Kade Belyk, receiver
Lukas Brennan, fullback
Josh Cassista, linebacker
Greg Corfield, defensive line
Aidan England, linebacker
Daniel Fascione, defensive line
Aidan Fraser, receiver
Zeph Fraser, receiver
Akeem Knowles, defensive back
Theo Landers, quarterback
Sam Lewis, receiver
Daniel Palmer-Salmon, running back
Job Reinhart, linebacker/long snapper
Matt Reuter, linebacker
Spencer Swan, offensive line
Elijah Walker, defensive back