London Community News
Ask any parent who coaches their son or daughter in minor sports, and they’ll tell you how difficult it is balancing both roles. Imagine, then, coaching not one but three sons as part of what is arguably the most feared and respected university football program in Canada.
This season, Western Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall has a front row seat as his three sons – quarterback Donnie, receiver Brian and running back Tommy, all products of London’s Mother Teresa Spartans high school program – suit up in pursuit of the Vanier Cup.
Moments before kickoff at the aptly-named TD Waterhouse Stadium, the highly-intense head coach softened – if only for a few seconds – when discussing the heavy presence of Marshall boys on this year’s squad.
“I’m a very proud father,” Greg said, unsuccessfully battling a smile, which soon saw him grinning from ear to ear. “I’m nervous enough before a big game, just because I’m the head coach, let alone having three sons on the team – and let alone one of them being the quarterback!
“I usually don’t sleep great the night before,” Greg added, “but it’s exciting. It’s nice coming out to practice and having your three boys on the field.”
Tommy, a 5-foot-10, 203-pound running back, is a rookie with the Mustangs, once again expected to challenge for a national title. He scored his first OUA touchdown September 8 in London in the Mustangs’ 62-7 shellacking of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
In fact, all three of Greg’s sons scored a touchdown in that game – a Canadian university first. Donnie ran for a TD, and he hit Brian with a touchdown pass.
Brian, a 6-foot, 200-pound, third-year receiver is, like Donnie, a team leader, and pound-for-pound, one of the toughest on this Mustangs squad.
Of course, dad Greg was one of the toughest players to ever pull on a purple jersey. A bruising fullback, Greg helped lead the Mustangs to four consecutive Yates Cup titles during his collegiate career from 1978 to ’81, and he captured the 1980 Hec Crighton Award as the nation’s top university football player before suiting up with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos.
Greg’s brother, Blake, also ran for the Mustangs and won the Hec Creighton Award in 1986 before playing with the Eskimos.
If you want to talk about tough, then talk about Donnie Marshall. The fifth-year pivot may stand only 5-foot-8 and weigh 184-pounds, but he’s as tough a quarterback as you’ll ever find.
After suffering a broken ankle last season, Donnie courageously returned to lead the Mustangs into the Yates Cup, captured by the eventual Vanier Cup champion McMaster Marauders. This year, Donnie’s last as a Mustang and playing with both of his brothers, the Mustangs’ QB carries additional weight on his small frame.
“Every game is special. Every game counts,” said Donnie. “This will be my last Homecoming game, too, and that’s special,” he said of the Sept. 29 matchup against those same Marauders.
It isn’t easy being the quarterback of the Western Mustangs. Liken it to being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys – America’s Team. Add the fact Donnie’s dad is the head coach, and you have a potential pressure cooker on the gridiron. But that’s not how Donnie Marshall is made.
Donnie has even more responsibility this year as he helps groom the Mustangs’ quarterback of the future – 6-foot-3, 220-pound Will Finch from Burlington, Ont. “I think my leadership is important right now, because we do have a lot of young players. It’s important that I step up and help them. Finchy is doing a great job, but again, it’s my job to help him understand the offense a little more. I think that’s my job this year.”
With an 18-11 loss to the Queen’s Gaels in Kingston last Saturday (Sept. 15), the 2-1 Mustangs host the 2-1 Windsor Lancers this Saturday. Sure, football is the ultimate team game. But this season, the Mustangs are largely in the hands of a father and his three sons.
Jeffrey Reed is an award-winning journalist, and has been a member of the local sports media since 1980. Write to him at email@example.com.