Many people go through school as a means to an end. They strive to do whatever it takes to get their degrees and leave this godforsaken place. They never take the time to involve themselves in the true essence of what university is really about and never care about what it means to be a part of this institution. For those, we pray. However, there are those who strive for more than the piece of paper they're presented with when they leave, those who get involved in more than just group projects and those who know what it means to be a part of the University of Calgary and have actually dreaded the day they would leave it all behind.
Greg Hoover, Jimmy Hartley, Brad Gillam, and Yousef Traya are four prime examples of what it means to be a part of the U of C and after five years of playing football for the Dinos, their fateful day has arrived. While the roads both to and from are as varied as the four characters themselves, the memories from their five year convergence on the U of C are something they will carry with them forever.
A product of Earnest Manning High School in Calgary's southwest, "Kevin Bacon"--as he came to be known after a late night Footloose dance session--originally had his sights set on the hellhole known as the University of Alberta.
"U of A was my first choice for school, and to get away from home," chuckled the three year starter.
His mind was quickly changed when he managed to make the Dinos in his first year out of high school. Red-shirting in his first season, Hoover took great pride throughout his career to improve not only from year to year, but from game to game. According to Dinos Defensive Coordinator Dave Johnson, the type of player he was is a reflection of the person he is everyday.
"Greg is an extremely driven individual," remarked Johnson, who was so impressed by the defensive back he named an entire defensive game package 'Hoover.' "He is one of those guys who will do very well because he truly strives for perfection. "Of course that's not to say he was perfect," he laughed.
Certainly, imperfection is not a knock against the Economics major because anyone who saw a game this year knows this team was far from impeccable. But despite his flaws, when Hoover leaves he'll take with him a lot of characteristics the team will need in order to be successful next season.
"Greg was by far our most aggressive defensive back," said Quarterbacks Coach Shawn Olson. "He added a little fire to the back end of our D, he provided a little nastiness out there."
Hoover's `nastiness and physical play in the 2001 season was evident enough to enough people that he was named a Canada West All-Star. Not a bad way to cap a career.
"Greg Hoover was a real pleasure to watch, especially in his senior year," said Dinos Sports Information Director Jack Neumann. "Most people never expected him to start, let alone become a conference all-star."
To try and recap a six-year span into a 400-word story would be like the Detroit Lions winning the Super Bowl--there's no chance. But when asked what he'll miss most about his time in the crimson and gold, Hoover never hesitated.
"The best part of being on this team was that it didn't end in November," he said. "We were a team all year long, we still hung out and did things after the season ended, maybe not as much as we should have, but we're still there for each other."
The strong, silent type, Hartley was just your everyday, run-of-the-mill, renaissance man throughout his five year stint for the Dinos. A second-generation kicker, the youngster followed in his father's footsteps all the way from the schoolyards of Brooks, Alta., to the bright lights of McMahon Stadium.
"The tradition of the Dinos was something I always wanted to be a part of," said the graduating Kinesiology student. "For me there was never a question of where I'd go to school."
In addition to kicking, Hartley began the 1998 season as a wide receiver. As the years progressed so did he, becoming what many felt to be the most consistent receiver on the squad this past year.
"Jimmy was a real stabilizing influence on our young quarter-backs this year," remarked Johnson. "He's the guy that doesn't say much but listens to everything. You tell him to run a 10-yard hitch, and he runs a 10-yard hitch. It really helped with Brent [Hargreaves] to know someone was always going to be exactly where he was supposed to be."
Despite his accolades and accomplishments (he leaves the team as the third-highest scorer in the school's history), getting him to talk about them is about as easy as beating Tony Siragusa in a pie-eating contest. But when the topic turned to life after football, Hartley was quick to pipe up.
"I don't know what I'll do now," he said. "I've been playing football since Grade 7. Every fall I've strapped on the pads, its been a part of my routine for so long, come next September I think I'll be lost."
One thing he is definite about is the fact that he'll be working--something the rest of the graduates agree with. None of them know where, but there's no question that's what they'll be doing.
Hartley's on-field leadership will be sorely missed, not to mention his sure-footedness. But for most its the smaller things that will stick with them, the things that only those who have been there understand.
"He was always trying to get people involved in his investment triangles, or pyramids, whatever those damn things are," said teammate Blake Machan.
"Jimmy likes pickles," laughed Hoover.
The first to admit he was not the best of students back in high school, Brad Gillam never really gave university too much thought. The Dinos camp was just one of a handful he attended after Grade 12, and it was only after meeting the likes of Ben Fairbrothers (now playing for the B.C. Lions) and Barkley Anderson that he made up his mind.
"I walked into camp and met guys like that," said the six-foot-five, 290-pound offensive lineman. "After seeing what they accomplished the year before (the Dinos had just come off a Vanier Cup win), you just knew you could reach a relative level of greatness."
Like the rest of the team Brad quickly learned to manage his time wisely, to balance football, school, and all the other things that go into a student's life. Earning a university degree is a trying enough task, but throw in playing football for eight hours a day, seven days a week, for three or four months a year and it becomes that much tougher. Despite the competition between practice and study time Gillam credits his upcoming degree in Economics to the fact that he was part of the football team.
"The great thing about the team is that if you didn't know how to do something you could go down to the locker room and there'd be 10 guys who were there to help you," said Gillam.
"That doesn't mean any of them knew what they were doing, but usually when we put our minds to something we figured it out," laughed Hoover.
The leader on the offensive line, Gillam's absence will be missed most in the locker room.
"Gilly is a jokester," said Olson. "His ability to make guys laugh and kid around contributed a lot to the cohesiveness of our team."
A victim and surely an instigator of many a practical joke, graduation from the U of C is no laughing matter to the jovial lineman.
"I will be the first person in my family to have a university degree," he said. "And I am sure that without football, I would never have gotten here."
If Hartley was the on-field renaissance man, Traya definitely played the role off the field. Described by teammates as one of the most intense guys on the field--frequently seen on the sidelines with spit on his face, snot in his beard and his helmet just a little crooked--off the field Traya has always been the epitome of the easy-going big boy next door.
Lovingly nicknamed the B.L.C. (Big Leb on Campus) by his teammates, Traya has been a staple on the campus scene for the entirety of his university career. In addition to starting for the U of C since 1997, he also spent a year wrestling for the Dinos and he has been the president of both the Arabic Students Association and the Student Athletic Advisory Council.
"Ever since we've been here, Yo has been the man," said Hoover.
"From our very first year, when the vets made him bring falafels for the entire team, whenever you needed something Yousef would get it for you," added Gillam. "Him or one of his 16 cousins."
In his first year, Tarek Jayoussi--a Dinos veteran at the time--took the Aberhart graduate under his wing and taught him about life as a student athlete.
"Tarek taught me how to operate inside the university system," said Traya, who already holds one degree from the U of C and is working towards another, this time in Community Rehabilitation. "So, every year since then I've tried to do the same thing for one of the young kids."
One of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, the hole Traya leaves will definitely be larger than his spot on the defensive line. His annual barbeques, his work within the campus community, and his facilitation of acceptance for the cultural mosaic that is the Dinos locker room are just a few of the intangibles that define him.
"On the field he was the guy who was always doing the dirty job, the no-fun job and he seemed to have fun doing it. Off the field he's just the greatest kid. He is always looking out for his friends," said Johnson. "He will be irreplaceable."
"Yousef is a tremendous person, he is so much more than just a football player," added Neumann. "The campus would be a lot better off with more people like Yousef."
So, as these men choose their next path, we bid them a wholehearted thank you and wish them good luck. While they may not have been the guys who scored the game-winning touchdowns, or the guys who ran for over 200 yards, their contributions did not go unnoticed. Their marks will last with those to whom they mattered most.