Laying it on the line: Capital Area DQ Gladiators offensive lineman Andrew Gillingham, No. 63 in foreground, will be joining the Mount Allison Mounties football team in the fall. Tonight, though, he’ll be trying to help the Gladiators get past the Moncton Marshals in Maritime Football League playoff action at Chapman Field.
Gladiator Gillingham heading to Mount A

By Robert Touchie

It's been quite a year in football for Capital Area DQ Gladiators offensive tackle Andrew Gillingham.

Just a year ago he was heading into Grade 12 at Fredericton High School, about to begin his second year of playing organized football.

Tonight he will suit up against grown men in the Maritime Senior Football League, as his 4-3 Gladiators take on the 0-7 Moncton Marshals in playoff action at 8 p.m. at Chapman Field.

In a few weeks, Gillingham will pack his bags and head to Mount Allison University to try and contribute to the rebirth of the storied Mounties football program, which last year finished at 2-6 in the Atlantic University Sport Football Conference, as they open training camp for their 2009 season.

Oh yes, along the way he was named the top offensive lineman in New Brunswick High School Football League for the 2008 season. Not bad progression for a football neophyte, someone who wasn't even the best offensive lineman at FHS in 2007, let alone the entire province.

"I was shocked," said Gillingham of the honour. "It was just a wicked feeling to win something like that."

The jump to CIS football, however, will present new challenges and a stronger, faster and smarter game, which will be a substantial test for the six-foot-three, 270-pound Gillingham.

"I've been working at the Y four days a week on my strength and two days a week on foot speed," said Gillingham of the challenge of AUS ball. "I think I'll be OK. Erik Watson (Gillingham's fellow offensive tackle and former CIS player) has really helped me out in practice, in terms of advice on school, how to prepare for the season and what to expect on the field."

The Mounties will decidedly look to New Brunswick and Maritime recruits to lift themselves from the depths of AUS football - this season and in the future.

"When we went to the Vanier Cup in '84 and '91 the Mounties were stockpiled with players from New Brunswick and the Maritimes," said Mounties defensive coordinator and Maritime recruiting coordinator Peter Estabrooks, who played on the '84 team. "We realize that if we are going to be successful, it starts in our backyard with prize recruits like Andrew Gillingham."

One does not need to look far into the Mounties football history to see Fredericton products making substantial and significant impacts on the field, with names like former FHS Black Kats Sean Hickey, Allison Brooks and Ronnie Squires coming to mind, having led the Mounties to AUS and CIS successes through most of the '90s.

The Gladiators are currently showcasing some of Fredericton's present AUS football talent, with Mount A players Tyler Doak, Elliott Hicks, Ryan Downe, Chris Munn, Dylan Sullivan, James Wilde and Gillingham the new breed of 'Fredericton Mounties.'

"The Mounties are New Brunswick's football team and we are very proud of that," Mount Allison head coach Kelly Jeffrey said. "The key to our success will be in attracting the top players from the Maritimes with a passion for Mount Allison University, like Andrew - who was sought by many schools."

The Fredericton work ethic is not lost on Jeffrey who sees the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Fredericton and Sackville as a major pipeline for gridiron success for his Mounties.

"I have always been impressed with the athletes we get from Fredericton," Jeffrey said. "They are very tough kids who come ready to compete and it's a connection that is a must for our program."

The Mounties will bring 14 rookie linemen into training camp, along with four returnees on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball - leaving 18 players fighting for nine starting jobs along the two lines. For Gillingham that means intense competition, something his coach on the Gladiators thinks he is more than up to.

"CIS football provides a lot of structure and opportunity to learn, which will help Andrew, who is new to the game and has so much potential and a great work ethic," said Gladiators player-coach Jamie Edwards, himself a former CIS star lineman with Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Que.

"Andrew is a really smart and mentally tough kid, who has more than held his own in the Maritime league " and with his long arms and frame, I think physically and athletically he will match up well in the AUS."

For now though, Gillingham and the Gladiators are only concerned with the task at hand: beating the hapless Marshals tonight and advancing to host a Maritime Bowl semifinal game next weekend.

"In football you can never count anyone out," said Gillingham of the Moncton team that has only scored one touchdown all season - that coming in their first game. "They show up every night and they go all out.

"We are not taking them lightly, at all."