For Andre Brock, the road to coaching football began in New Liskeard, ventured off to Toronto on a few different instances and veered over to Sudbury for a handful of critical developmental years, somewhat in between.
While the pandemic has put it on hold, there is little doubt that the 30-year-old who has travelled many a highway mile to make it all happen will make his way back to the game that he loves — wherever that may be.
Like most kids, both Andre and his brother, Adam, four years his elder, were weaned on the professional athletics which graced the television set at the family home. Their father, Gord, was a huge CFL fan — arguably more just a lover of the game of football, in general.
Some might suggest a fanatic (but in a very nice way).
“Even though we were living in New Liskeard, we actually had season’s tickets to the Toronto Argonauts,” said Andre. “I was six or seven years old, so I didn’t know if that was normal or not. Now I know that not a lot of people do this.”
Yet for as much as football talk would constantly fill the homestead, there was that stark reality that the tackle version of the sport simply did not exist in the Tri-Towns area in the mid to late 1990s.
For most, this would spell the end of the line, the sign that some other sporting pursuit might be more appropriate. For most, perhaps — but not for the Brock clan.
With just the experience of a few summer week-long football camps at McMaster University under their belts, the lads would make their way to Sudbury, enjoying the local introduction that comes in the form of the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League.
Adam would lead the way, eventually joining the Sudbury Northerners at the age of 16 and quarterbacking the Lockerby Vikings to a city title in his final year of high-school. Andre, for his part, was taking it all in.
“For all of Adam’s football, I was making the drive with them. I would watch the practice and we would make the drive back.”
Just to be clear, with favourable weather conditions and daylight driving, a New Liskeard to Sudbury jaunt might take upwards of two and a half hours. You might want to add another 20 minutes or so once the sun goes down, as the roadway that runs through Field up to Highway 11 can be a tad sinuous.
Not the least bit detracted, Andre would follow in his brother’s footsteps, playing four years of summer football — one with Joe Mac and three with the Northerners/Gladiators.
Completing a fifth year of high school, Andre got a taste of the post-secondary world, living on his own in Sudbury but making his way back home, pretty much every weekend, once he and his Lockerby teammates had finished their weekly game.
“That was a really good process for my maturity, living away from home but not really thrown into the deep end.”
With coach Frank Rocca putting in a good word with scouts, the younger Brock committed to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, starting every game as a wide receiver in his rookie campaign. His receptions were limited to just five, but the real challenge came from leaving his completely French high school setting at Ecole secondaire catholique Sainte Marie and adjusting to the demanding, English-only setting at U of T.
“Academically, there were some challenges, with some of that due to the language barrier,” said Brock, who went on to graduate with a major in history and minors in bioethics and French. “It was a little more difficult than I first anticipated.”
For the next few years, football took a necessary backseat to academic priorities. But Andre Brock was not about to stay away forever. In 2015, through some of the contacts that came courtesy of the Blues football locker room, the Northern lad was put in touch with coach Frank Trentadue and the St. Michael’s College experience.
“The varsity staff was full, but the JVs had only one coach, a teacher who was there for maybe 30 years or more,” said Brock. “This was his last year before retirement and I was told that he would love some help. I came in as a receiver coach and by the third week, I was calling the plays on offence.”
An absolute stickler for the hierarchy of coaching echelons, Brock deferred to the head coach first and foremost, but was more than a little thankful for walking into a great situation.
“It was really nice to have the reins kind of loosened, to get to install certain packages.”
It didn’t hurt that the team was an absolute juggernaut.
Blessed with athletes who could easily compensate for a coach that was learning on the fly, Brock never forgot the lessons of weekends in New Liskeard.
“My dad, in terms of having a football mind, is my mentor,” he said. “Systems come and go, so he may or may not be able to teach an inside zone read right now, but his overall knowledge of the game of football is second to none. Strategy wise, he is great to have on the sidelines. He instilled a lot of the knowledge of the sport, just while watching football with Adam and me.”
Thanks to a partnership that St. Michael’s had forged with the Toronto JuniorArgos, Brock saw the door opened to even more opportunities to expand his craft, named as head coach of the OPFL varsity team and drawing constantly upon his time at the legendary private school.
“St. Michael’s was running a football program that was almost at a university level,” he noted. “Every single coach there had played university football. The culture was so dedicated: We had study hall, then film, then practise.”
Yet as he continues to ponder coaching life beyond COVID — “It would be fun to get to the next level, maybe a positional coach at the university level” — Brock still recognizes the importance of the stop between New Liskeard and Toronto.
“I will forever be grateful for what the city of Sudbury has done for both Adam and me, in terms of growing our football careers,” he said. “If I didn’t play Joe Mac in Grade 10, I really don’t think I would be on the sidelines now, coaching.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is a federally funded program.
Randy Pascal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star