Crash course with Lincoln Blumell

By Kris Kotarski

The range of emotions is incredible. When quarterback Lincoln Blumell threw a record 98-yard touchdown to Jamie Elliott on the first drive of the 2001 season, the defensive players jumped around on the sidelines like a bunch of bantam kids. They were joined by the homecoming mob at McMahon Stadium, drunk with victory and jabbering about glorious destiny for the red and gold.

When Blumell went down on the second drive of the 2001 season, the Dinos stopped jumping. The crowds kept cheering–after all, the injury didn’t look serious from the stands. Blumell was still pacing on the sidelines, for a second it looked like an equipment problem not an injury. The Dinos brass knew otherwise, but they weren’t sure how serious it was. However, once the swelling subsided and the extent of the injury became clear, the mood turned grim.

Head Coach Tony Fasano was sitting in his office the following Monday morning and looked tired from the inevitable questions. Blumell had torn the ligaments on his throwing hand tackling an Alberta player who picked off his pass. This was big news, and the greater Calgary media wanted Blumell’s side of the story.

"I saw him and I thought he might take it so I started running," recalled Blumell. "It all happened so fast, I got up, and I knew my hand hurt, but I was more disgusted at myself for throwing the interception. I clenched my fist, and the thumb hurt, but I thought it was just a bruise. The trainers looked at it and said ‘that’s it.’ I tried grabbing a ball, but I just couldn’t do it."

Right there, the season was over. Freshman Brent Hargreaves was thrown to the wolves and Calgary dropped the season opener. Hargreaves had a good game that day, and he went on to a good season, but no one expected Blumell-like brilliance from a red-shirt player.

"You spend so much time preparing, but you only have an eight-game season," continued Blumell. "You spend the rest of the time training. I tried to get the best out of it, and being on the sidelines, I learned a different aspect of the game. When I wasn’t playing I was looking at defences, seeing what was going on. It was a really good learning experience. I wouldn’t wish for it–but in the long run it was really helpful."

The Dinos lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Manitoba Bisons–the same Bisons who conquered the Canada West Conference and made a run at the national title. It’s also the same Bisons who visit the Dinos in their 2002 homecoming game on Fri., Sept. 6, 2002.

Due to the timing of his injury, Blumell received his final year of eligibility for the second time, and he’s ready to come through on last season’s promise. Spirits were high in training camp in mid-August, and on the walk back from the practice field just west of the Olympic Oval, Assistant Head Coach Dave Johnson tried to describe the feeling around the 2002 Dinos.

"You know… I think some of the guys here think he can do anything," smiled Johnson. "He’s got them believing that he can walk on water."

"Lincoln Blumell is outstanding," added coach Fasano the next day. "But one man can’t get everything done alone. Lincoln’s strength is that he inspires confidence in his teammates."

"It’s been a really upbeat camp, really one of the best," said Blumell. "We don’t have anybody here, in my opinion, who doesn’t belong here. In years past, we had a couple of guys you looked at and said ‘what are you doing here?’ This year people are excited–we might really surprise some teams. It might be like 2000 where we had a 6–2 record. I think the Manitoba game will really tell us where we are."

The 2000 season was a watershed year for the Dinos. It was Blumell’s second season at the helm of the offence–just a year after the tumultuous 1999 off-season saw quarterback Darryl Leason leave the team after he lost the starting job. Leason and coach Fasano didn’t get along to begin with, and when Blumell’s excellent training camp propelled him up the depth chart, Leason went to the Regina Rams, who would beat the Dinos by one point in the first round of the 2002 playoffs.

People thought that we were enemies, that I didn’t like him," said Blumell. "But we got along fine. He wasn’t my best friend but we were both cordial and both competitors. Sometimes people thought that it was the focus but it wasn’t."

Three years later, Fasano stands by his choice.

"At the time, he progressed to the point that he was ready. You want teammates to rally around an individual and they did. My decision was based on performance, and Lincoln simply had a better training camp.

"These days, it may sound like a cliché, but Lincoln is the ultimate team player. He’s an incredible man and he has given a lot to this team. He gets guys together and leads by example. They look at his ability, see how hard he works, and follow. The best guys are the ones who lead by example and anytime you have a natural athlete who does that, it’s special."

Blumell’s character comes from a variety of sources but football has been an important part of his life since grade 10. His gridiron journey began when he used his baseball-arm to sneak onto the William Aberhart football team behind his mother’s back.

"In high school I decided I wanted to play football but my mom didn’t want me to–she didn’t want me to get injured. I went anyway, and after a couple of weeks my parents were wondering where I was, but I made quarterback. When I made it, they didn’t have any protests."

Blumell laughs that all his traits–both his mischievous side and his impeccable work ethic–come from his parents.

"My dad’s more reserved. He’s a lawyer, and he’s a little more conservative; cross all the t’s, dot all the i’s. My mom is a school teacher, she’s more relaxed."

Blumell’s "relaxed side" manifested itself at training several times as teammates fell victim to various pranks. The favourite? Fake interviews.

"We had a couple of guys waiting around for guys from the Herald-we don’t prank the Gauntlet though, we make you guys look good.

I had one of my o-linemen, and I called him and interviewed him for the Herald. Sometimes on road trips, we’d call a guy in and have him wait in the hotel lobby until coach comes down on a curfew check."

But fun aside, Blumell can’t afford to joke around once training camp ends. Football, becomes serious, school gets in full gear, and grad school applications (Lincoln plans to earn a PhD in Religious Studies) are not going to fill out themselves. To top it all off, there’s a new addition to family.

"My wife an I are having a baby boy–sometime soon, it may even be today," said Blumell. "She’s in her last four weeks and it’s really exciting and really scary. It’ll be a tough time balancing that with my thesis, football and everything else.

"My wife plans on being up in the booth later on in the season, and we’ll have another football fan."

At this point of the interview (conducted in part during a physiotherapy session), another student piped in.

"It is a boy?" she asked.

"I paid a hundred bucks for the ultrasound–it better be," Lincoln laughed. "They told me he had a, um… I couldn’t see it, but they claim it was there."

With a baby on the way, life is about to become chaotic. Blumell is usually at school by 9 a.m. and studies until 1 or 2 p.m. Next up is an hour-long session in the weight room, dinner, game film, team meetings, and finally, a two-hour practice. Blumell is home by 9 p.m. and gets to bed at midnight.

"I don’t know how that will work when we have a baby," he shuddered.

Chances are, Blumell will make it work. To onlookers, football and school seem easy enough and coach Fasano believes his quarterback will excel in parenthood. With all this on his plate, it’s a wonder Blumell has any time to look ahead.

"For me, in my last year, I want to win a playoff game," he smiled. "I’ve been here for six years now and we’ve never won a playoff game. We have a lot of potential, and everything looks good. It’s really upbeat here and we’re really excited. Dave Johnson and Tony Fasano did a terrific job recruiting new players and we have guys coming in from junior that are ready to contribute to this team.

"I thought last season was going to start with a bang, and it did, but it was very frustrating."

Now, with the 2002 season underway, only time will tell if the football chapter of Blumell life will turn from frustration to vindication. Coach Fasano put his reputation on the line when he chose Blumell over Leason, and now, in his final year, all eyes are on number 18.

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