Football News

FB | Dejong Says Pandemic Helps Ravens More Than Any Other Team

Written by Jeff Morris

Photo by Cole Lawrence

When Tanner DeJong won the starting quarterback job with the Carleton Ravens last year, the team’s coaching staff was not quite sure what they were getting. He had a great work ethic, he lacked game experience, and he had a great attitude.

That great attitude has helped the Brockville native turn the cancellation of the 2020 OUA football season into an advantage instead of a disappointment.

“I think the cancellation of this season is going to help us more than any other team in the league,” DeJong said in a glass-half-full tone.

Head Coach Steve Sumarah is taking over the offensive duties for the Ravens. Sumarah won a Vanier Cup as an offensive co-ordinator, and spent the off-season workouts and practices installing a new offence.

“It was my first full off-season of getting QB1 reps,” DeJong said. “Things were going well, and then all of a sudden, everything shut down. We haven’t been in our locker room since March.”

When parks and sports fields opened up, DeJong and a group of receivers have been holding their own workouts at Khaladar Field in Ottawa as they continue to learn the new offence.

“When you think of it, we would only be a month away from the season starting,” DeJong said. “It would have been more difficult for us to come in with a new offence for the 2020 season. Now, we have an entire year to practice and to have everything ready for the 2021 season. We are definitely taking this year with no season to keep getting better and improving for 2021.”

While some fifth-year players are in jeopardy of losing their seasons due to the USports football age limit of 25 years old, DeJong snuck under the deadline by 52 days. The rule has been a source of controversy this year, as a panel unanimously recommended to USports that the age rule be altered for the upcoming season to allow fifth-year players to play their final season. USports rejected the recommendation and kept the age limit in place. They have said, however, that because of a strong wave of backlash, the policy is under review. The rule currently states that a player cannot turn 25 before Sept. 1. DeJong does not turn 25 until October, meaning he is eligible to play regardless of the USports decision.

DeJong saw limited action in his first and second year, seeing the odd drive on late game mop up time. In his third year, starting quarterback Mike Arruda took every snap for the Ravens, and DeJong did not see the field. When Arruda left the program in the spring of 2019, DeJong saw an opportunity to get on the field.

Dejong’s first career OUA start vs Queen’s (Credit: Robin Kasem / Queen’s Gaels)

He won the starting job and led the Ravens to a win over Queen’s in Kingston in his first start. It was a thrill for him personally, as he had a lot of family and friends from Brockville at the game, and he had played OVFL football in Kingston. The best part, though, was how he felt the next day.

“I got knocked to the turn six or seven times that game,” he said, noting that Queen’s was a team known for their pass rush last year. “The next day, I was sore. I was game-soar, and it was great. I hadn’t felt game-sore in a few years.”

The next week, however, things took a goofy direction for DeJong and the Ravens. The visiting Guelph Gryphons returned the opening kick-off for a touchdown, and they scored two touchdowns on unusual and fluky interceptions. There was a bright spot in the game, though, as DeJong completed a 91-yard touchdown pass to Quinton Soares. It was the fourth-longest completion in Ravens history.

The Ravens fell into a pattern for the next month. They were outplaying their opponents and usually leading at halftime, and then in the third quarter, the wheels came off. After a Panda Game loss to Ottawa that Carleton dominated the first half of, the Ravens were 2-4 and a longshot to make the playoffs.

Dejong throws for 207 yds & 2 tds in the Ravens 35-30 win over McMaster (Photo: Valerie Wutti)

“It was something we were aware of and talked about a lot,” DeJong said of the team’s third-quarter difficulties. “We tried a lot of different things. Maybe we were playing not to lose or maybe we were too tight. Before we played McMaster, we had a team meeting and it was like, this is it. If we were going to have any shot at the playoffs, we had to beat McMaster. We turned it around that week and then beat Laurier in the last game, and it was our first time beating that program and they had a packed crowd at their field.”

DeJong got better as the season went on and drew strong praise from the coaching staff for his leadership, work ethic, and improvement. He became only the third Carleton quarterback to pass for more than 2,000 yards in a season behind Jesse Mills and Mike Arruda. With 2,339 career passing yards, he has a chance to become the seventh Ravens quarterback to eclipse the 3,000-yard career passing mark. Jesse Mills (6,110), Sean O’Neill (5,688), Cam Collins (5,563), Michael Arruda (4,409), Bob Amer (3,840) and Mark Lee (3,001) are the other members of the 3,000-yard club.

While Mills is the school’s all-time passing leader, he is also the first player DeJong mentions as a mentor when he first arrived at Carleton. When DeJong was the quarterback at St. Mary’s High School in Brockville, he played in two Athletes in Action High School All-Star Games. His West All-Star Team was coached by Ravens players and coaches, and Jesse Mills worked with DeJong.

Rookie Dejong watches Mills lead the Ravens to their 3rd straight Panda Game victory (2016)

“In high school, Jesse Mills was like my superhero,” he said. “And then I am coming into Carleton as this unknown kid from Brockville and I was fourth on the depth chart. Jesse really helped me, and so did (wide receivers) Nate Behar and Kyle Van Wynsberghe.”

The Ravens have a lot of turnover in their receiving core for the next season. DeJong’s best friend on the team, all-star wide receiver Phil Iloki, has graduated. Quinton Soares and Chad Manchulenko have also graduated. DeJong did say, however, there are some players waiting in the wings that will impress Ravens fans and supporters.

Dejong and Iloki embrace after falling to the Gryphons in the OUA Playoffs (Photo: Timothy Austen)

“We have some guys who have looked really good in the off-season workouts,” DeJong said. “Keaton Bruggeling and Nick Renaud have both looked really good. Keaton is a big receiver who is fast and athletic and can go up and get the ball. And Nick Renaud in the slot is fast. He is like Quinton Soares 2.0. Those guys have looked really good. Plus, we have some other good players back and a great class of recruits coming in with some good receivers.”

Academically, DeJong is studying Criminology. Like other students, he has had to adjust to online learning during the pandemic.“I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy,” he said. “But I have great roommates and they really kept me on track. I don’t think it affected me as much as some of the guys in Engineering or Neuro-Science programs where they have a lot of labs, but it is different for everyone.”

Plans for Ravens practices and workouts will depend on the parameters and guidelines set out by health officials when practices for the next season start.

The full interview with Tanner DeJong can be heard on the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast