The waning seconds of the 2019 CIS U-SPORTS men’s football Vanier Cup championship in Quebec City are a blur to Vernon’s Josh Hyer.
The six-foot-four, 250-pound defensive end with the University of Calgary Dinos knew his team was ahead, and there was about 10 seconds left. Other than that…
“I think I blacked out,” laughed Hyer, who turns 21 this week. He had a tackle in the final game of the year as the Dinos won the fifth national football championship in school’s history, with a 27-13 win over the University of Montreal Carabins. “I was on the sidelines. Guys were tearing up, cheering, getting excited. Then the clock hit zero and we all ran onto the field and celebrated.”
It was the triumphant end to a season in which the Dinos weren’t expected to do much, yet they rolled to first place in the Canada West Conference with a 6-2 record, one game better than the Saskatchewan Huskies.
In the CW playoffs, the Dinos survived a conference semifinal thriller, 47-46, over the Manitoba Bisons, then won the conference Hardy Bowl championship with a convincing 29-4 romp over the Huskies.
Calgary continued the roll into the national semifinals, where they defeated the Ontario University Athletics Conference champion McMaster Marauders of Hamilton, 30-17 in the Mitchell Bowl, to advance to the Vanier Cup final against the Carabins.
The Montreal school had defeated conference rivals 25-10 Laval Rouge et Or in the Quebec Conference final, then clobbered Nova Scotia’s Acadia Axemen 38-0 in the Uteck Bowl semifinal.
“Once we got on that roll, we thought we could win it all,” said Hyer, who has completed three years of a five-year communications degree program. He has two years of eligibility remaining (the Dinos will have to wait til 2021 to defend, as football is one of the fall sports cancelled by CIS U-SPORTS due to COVID-19).
Out in Quebec City, the Dinos were all business during the day, and Western Canadian visitors at night, sampling a French Canadian delicacy.
“We had poutine every night,” said Hyer. “Each night we’d go to a different place.”
Come game day on Nov. 23, 2019, Hyer said the atmosphere in Quebec City was “super fun,” and that the Dinos felt like the home team.
“Football is bigger out there than it is in the west,” said Hyer. “We were playing at Laval, who lost to Montreal in the playoffs. Montreal and Laval are big enemies, so all of the Laval fans were cheering for us. I was super pumped to be there.”
Hyer twice received his championship ring. The first was at a team ceremony in Calgary, but the rings had to be returned due to an error. He picked it up a second time in Calgary this summer.
The ring, which he wears out on special occasions, includes the five Vanier Cup trophies the team has won, the years they were national champions. The 2019 playoff scores are inscribed inside, his last name is on it and, of course, the UC logo is on top.
Hyer began his football career in the Vernon minor system as a six-year-old, continuing up the ranks every fall. Hyer signed up to play high school football at Vernon Secondary, starting in Grade 8, though he needed a bit of encouragement to try out for the Panthers.
“There was a meeting at the beginning of the year, for anybody interested in playing football, and I was just a little kid. I didn’t show up because I was scared and I was lost inside the school,” said Hyer. He got over his nervousness and became a stalwart on both sides of the ball, as head coach Sean Smith began to build the Panthers into a provincial powerhouse.
Hyer, working for the summer at a North Okanagan mill, helped VSS reach its first-ever provincial final in 2016, losing the AA Subway Bowl championship to Delta’s Seaquam Seahawks. His play caught the eye of the Dinos, who signed him to a university deal.
The Panthers have won back-to-back B.C. AA championships, and the Dinos have recruited four members of the 2019 team to play in Calgary, much to the delight of Hyer.
“It’s good to see the guys from the Interior get recognized,” said Hyer, whose best friend and Panthers teammate, former BC AA MVP Ben Hladik, plays defence for the UBC Thunderbirds. “I don’t think I played with any of the four coming here, but it’s nice to see them follow in our footsteps.”
Hyer plans to complete his degree, would love to get drafted by a CFL team and play professionally for a few years.