The Sports Cave

Beyond the Vanier Cup: How Michael O’Connor’s found success outside American football

Lance Phillips – The Sports Cave

Most kids involved in sport dream of playing in the pros. For Michael O’Connor, his dream’s taken a significant turn, one that the Ottawa native certainly didn’t expect.

At the age of 15, O’Connor led the Ashbury College Colts in Ottawa, ON to a 7-0 season, finishing with a Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario Athletic Association championship in 2011. Not long after, O’Conner left home to pursue his dream of becoming pro by attending Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Baylor school, followed by a one-year stint at Florida’s IMG Academy.

The plan seemed to work. In 2014 ESPN named O’Connor the number six high school quarterback prospect in the United States. Being one of the most coveted American high school quarterback’s meant O’Connor’s pro dream was going to take the next step in the form of a scholarship at a top-end U.S. division one university. That school ended up being one of the most storied in all of American college football, Penn State.

O’Connor was initially recruited to Penn State by Bill O’Brien, and two weeks before the Canadian was set to enroll, O’Brien left State College, PA for an NFL coaching job with the Houston Texans. O’Connor declined the opportunity to transfer after Penn State replaced O’Brien with James Franklin, Vanderbilt’s former coach. However, Franklin didn’t see the same potential in O’Connor, demoting him to redshirt status with the program. It was the beginning of the end for the Canadian at PSU.

Enter Blake Nill.

Nill, the man responsible for the Calgary Dinos rejuvenation, had taken a coaching position with the UBC Thunderbirds of the CIS and was in need of a quarterback. Upon hearing that O’Connor was looking to transfer, Nill contacted O’Connor through a universal portal, Facebook.

He eventually convinced O’Connor to come take a look at UBC and discuss its program. O’Connor, skeptical of how he could progress in Canadian football, looked at the opportunity in a different light. “It’s going to sound bad, and maybe I shouldn’t say this, but it was a free trip to Vancouver,” O’Connor would later say. Nill was able to prove to O’Connor that the CIS was a worthy training ground for a pro career and in an unexpected turn O’Connor left America, the perceived epicenter of football development, to play for a UBC program that hadn’t had a winning record since going 4-3 in 2004.

What transpired in O’Connor’s first year at UBC is exactly what coach Nill hoped for. O’Connor flourished under Nill’s vision, completing 250 of 414 pass attempts for 3,570 yards, throwing 22 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. More importantly, he was the catalyst that led UBC to a 6-2 record, a first round playoff upset against Nill’s old team, the undefeated Calgary Dino’s and a berth in the Vanier Cup (a first for UBC since 1997) after defeating St. Francis Xavier in last weekends Uteck Bowl.

Nill knows his offence is still a work-in-progress, one that relies heavily on O’Connor to produce. “My

UBC quarterback Michael O'Connor stands infant of his new home at UBC's Point Grey campus.

UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor stands infront of his new home at UBC’s Point Grey campus.

Calgary and St. Mary’s programs were based on an ability to run the football, allowing you to open up the pass game. Hopefully in the future, we’ll be back to the traditional mould but we’re not right now and Michael is a big part of any success we’re going to have.”

Under Nill, O’Connor’s dream to play pro still exists, despite arguments that Canadian quarterbacks aren’t as prepared as their NCAA counterparts. O’Connor’s enjoyed his first year with UBC, “It’s been awesome. Such a great journey.” Considering the 19-year old’s in his first of potentially five years with the BC university, the journey’s just beginning. However, it can take a considerable step forward with a win over the Montreal Carabins in Saturday’s Vanier Cup.

It’s compelling to see how O’Connor’s focus has shifted from wanting to play in the U.S. to his new goal. “I want to win multiple Vanier Cups.” For Nill, O’Connor’s road to success is pretty simple. “If this kid lives up to his potential, I’m confident I can get him up to the level he aspires to.”

All that’s left now is for O’Connor to hold up his end of the bargain.

Talking Blue Jays with “The Donald”.

Here’s some fun. It’s Donald Trump….on The Sports Cave!


Yea, The Donald talked to us, but just for a minute, literally. Sixty seconds was all the time he could afford us.


It’s gold though, so have a listen!

It’s a different kind of bowl season in the CIS.

For years CIS football’s been plagued with little to no parity. It’s as easy to pick the top teams, as it is to pick the bottom teams. Year after year, squads like the University of Western Ontario Mustangs (OUA), Laval University Rouge et Or (RSEQ) and the University of Calgary Dino’s (Canada West) feast on lower seeded teams. Program’s like Western’s are always going to be perennial winners. They’ve developed and fostered a culture of winning, solidifying it with top tier scouting, player development and coaching. Having a strong program such as Western’s is a plus for the CIS, but so is having parity. Something the CIS desperately needs.

This season the parity wave turned, ever so slightly. UBC finished the season 6-2, fully reversing their

UBC's Michael O'Connor avoids 2 Calgary Dino defenders

UBC’s Michael O’Connor avoids 2 Calgary Dino defenders

2-6 2014 record, finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2004. Mainly due to standout quarterback Michael O’Connor, an Ottawa native who transferred from Penn State after one season with the Nittany Lions. St. Francis Xavier (AUS) finished with a winning record for the first time since 2009 and Carleton, Queens and Toronto each won more games than the year previous. Even the York University Lions earned a win this season, something they didn’t manage once during the 2014 campaign.

I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but they are small victories. However, even though the regular season saw some unlikely standings changes, the best was saved for this past weekend.

In a matter of hours Calgary, Western, and Laval all watched their seasons come to an early end. Calgary lost in the Hardy Cup to the aforementioned UBC Thunderbirds, 34-26. Western, without their top player, OUA MVP and Hec Crighton finalist, Quarterback Will Finch, were upset by Guelph 23-17 in the Yates Cup, and Montreal squeaked by Laval 18-16, winning the Dunsmore Cup on a blocked last-minute field goal attempt. To put that in perspective, the number 1, 2 and 3 ranked teams nationally, were beaten by the number 4, 5 and 6 ranked teams. Even an unranked St. Francis Xavier won the Loney Bowl on a dramatic last-minute field goal, 14-12 over Mount Allison.

What all that means is 4 teams not expected to be anywhere near the Vanier Cup, are in the CIS final four. It should be equally thrilling for the CIS as it is for fans of these schools. It allows each of these programs an opportunity to develop their own winning culture just like the ones they defeated. It also offers up the chance for a team not named Montreal to play for the Vanier Cup for the first time in over 18 years.

Change is good. And for a league faced with the dilemma of the same teams winning year after year, it’s the best kind of change.

TSC044: The Sports Cave Podcast – Episode #44

Well, that’s it.

T-Majid’s last show. To say we’re going to miss this guy’s an understatement. He’s been an integral part of the Pod since the restart last January, and we’re not sure we’ll see another like him, or his dislike of LeBron.

For the last show we’re discussing the Stanley Cup Final, the NBA final and of course we polish it off with some chat about the 11-game win streak Blue Jays.

So what happens to The Sports Cave Podcast moving forward? Well, take a listen, and we’ll fill you in.

What a ride!

The Beginners Guide to Weight Loss

With increasing health related diseases and sickness present in today’s world, it’s become even more important to live a healthy lifestyle. A lot of people struggle with weight issues and think hitting the treadmill for 30-45 minutes a day will help them become slim, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Inevitably the desired results aren’t achieved, so they give up.

I was one of those people. For 2-3 years my weight fluctuated between 185-205 pounds, mainly due to poor eating habits. My weight wreaked havoc with my mental stability, my personal life and my athletic ability. In May, 2012 I decided to make a change. I completely altered my nutritional habits, formed an exercise routine and began a three month journey to shed 30 pounds. In August of 2012, I achieved my goal. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it made me a better person and has allowed me to become versed on the subject.

What you consume is the number one factor contributing to body fat gain or loss. It’s also the most overlooked, and the hardest habit to break for people who eat poorly. Fat loss is about calories in versus calories out. Most people live in a calorie-surplus world. That is, they consume more calories per day than their bodies burn. When that situation exists, the body stores that surplus in the form of fat.

The first step to effective weight loss is to change your eating habits to create a calorie-deficit. It’s a matter of calculating how many calories a day your body burns, and consuming less than that amount based on your fat loss goals. You might be asking, “Where does the body get it’s extra nutrition if I’m not consuming enough calories?”. The answer is: Your fat stores. Your body will begin to consume fat for energy provided you’re fueling it with the proper foods. If your calorie-deficit diet consists of poor food choices (refined sugars, poor carbohydrate and protein choices), your body will source nutrients from other parts of the body such as lean muscle itself. Providing the body with proper clean fats, complex carbohydrates and lean protein in a calorie-deficit situation is a surefire way to reduce body fat. However, there are other factors to keep in mind.

1) Consume food at regular 2-3 hour intervals. Yes, this means that you will have 6-8 meals per day. This method keeps your body fueled with proper nutrients, while requiring your body to continually work to process the food you’re providing to it; thus, re-igniting your metabolism. Most people eat larger portions, 2-3 times per day, and it does more harm than good. When the human body doesn’t receive proper amounts of nutrients after roughly 4 hours, it attempts to prevent starvation by consuming lean mass within the body (muscle), not fat stores.

2) Consume smaller portion sizes. With food consumption taking place every 2-3 hours, the requirement for larger portions is eliminated. Use the motto, “Eat until satisfied, not until full”. Drink water with your meals, and allow yourself 20 minutes to consume each meal.

3) Stay away from refined sugars, processed meats, and bad fats.

There’s an old saying “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.”. While true, another key component to weight loss and an overall healthy lifestyle is proper exercise. For many people the idea of developing a good exercise routine sounds incredibly daunting. It’s not. Weights are your friend, and they like to be moved. For beginners, a great starting point are simple, compound movements. A compound movement involves many muscle groups working at the same time. Some examples are squats, bench press, pull-ups, and leg press. They’ll increase your heart rate and that means more fat burned! You don’t need to spend all day in the gym either. Your routine shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes, followed by 15-20 minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). This type of cardio is not easy and if you frequent the gym, you won’t see many people doing it because it’s difficult to commit to. It entails short, all-out bursts followed by a rest period. In comparison to steady state cardio (remember running on the treadmill for 45 minutes) the fat-loss effects are mind boggling. HIIT is an anaerobic type of training that forces your body to burn fat to sustain the level of intensity being asked of it. Steady state cardio is an aerobic form of exercise, which tends to burn carbohydrates first, and can lead to muscle degradation.

The last key factor to weight loss is sleep. A proper night’s sleep (7+ hours) can contribute to your overall health in ways you never thought possible. Adequate sleep at night is linked to better body composition and a leaner body overall. Proper amounts of sleep can reduce inflammation, improve athletic performance and decrease stress levels. Most importantly though, this is the time your body uses to repair and recover from damage inflicted on it during workout sessions.

Nobody said these changes come easy. It takes work and dedication, but lead to a healthier, better way of life. The benefits include better immune system function, increased energy levels and a better attitude.

Oh yeah, two more things. Drink 8 liters of water a day, and stop drinking alcohol. Your body will thank you for it.


TSC043: The Sports Cave Podcast – Episode #43

What’s up Cave Dwellers? Terik and Lance are back with episode 43, and we’ve got some NBA right out of the gate. Will LeBron get it done in Cleveland, or does Chef Curry have what it takes to bring a championship to Golden State? Also, we discuss the NHL final and land on a quick, Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner hit. Weird.

Check it out!

TSC042: The Sports Cave Podcast – Episode #42

Episode 42 comin’ at ya with a two man front. With Gosse MIA, Terik and Lance hold down the fort with a plethora of NBA chit chat. Are the Washington Wizards for real? Can anyone stop Golden State? What’s Terik’s big announcement? Find out now!

TSC041: The Sports Cave Podcast – Episode #41

What’s up Sports Cave dwellers? We’re back (albeit a little late) with episode 41. This time around we’ll greasy your sticky sports wheels with a little draft lottery chat, Toronto basketball Raptors chit, and finish it off with some NHL playoff banter.

Enjoy y’all, and see you in two weeks!

The Heart of the West


We’ve all got one, but how much of it are we really using?

There’s a Western Canadian hockey team that’s got 27 of them, all beating to the same rhythm. Lined up on that bench like soldiers going to war, ready to do whatever it takes for each other. Operating at max capacity, and it shows.

What’s not to like about the Calgary Flames?

They were written off before the season began. Referred to as bottom-feeders, eternal basement dwellers. Mike Cammaleri left for New Jersey. GM Brad Treliving dealt Curtis Glencross and Sven Beartschi in March. Hell, they lost their best player, Mark Giordano, to injury. Yet, they soldier on.

A kid with the nickname, “Johnny Hockey” is in a one-man race to win the Calder. No-name’s like Russell, Schlemko, Jooris and Bouma getting it done on a nightly basis. They’ve got a coach nobody wanted. Out of the NHL four years, now on the brink of Jack Adams status. Amidst all the criticism, they’re challenging. Not only for a playoff spot, but for home ice advantage.

It’s how they do it that’s impressive. No superstars, just blue-collar workers. Giving all they’ve got for the win, and for each other. They’re overachievers, but the best kind. The kind that’s easy to love. No luck here, just the intangibles. Grit, hard work, character. They arrive at the gunfight armed with knives, and still win. Their mascot Harvey, with his long red tongue hanging out, looks like he’s given 100% for god’s sake. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Flames, admit it. They’re fun to watch. Even Oilers fans can’t root against them. Yea, I know I’m supposed to be unbiased, but this is different.

The Flames are already winners. They’ve defied the analytical odds all season, force-feeding any stats guy his numbers and data. For Calgary and its fans there’s no collapse or result that ends in failure. If they make the playoffs, they’re winners. If they lose 4 straight in the first round, they’re winners. Narrowly miss the playoffs….yep, still winners. Even if the Calgary Flames lost every one of their last 8 games, the season is still a success.

So you can take your Corsi and possession rates and toss them right in the garbage, because there’s one thing you can’t measure.

It’s Heart. And this team’s got piles of it.


TSC040: The Sports Cave Podcast – Episode #40

Wow, 40 episodes!

This week we’re all over the NCAA March Madness tournament, the Canadian NHL playoff situation and finish off the meal with a very involved discussion about sports media. Toronto sports media specifically.

It’s longer than normal, but we think you’ll like it.

Have fun, and remember to sauce us a rating on iTunes.

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