Burlington, Ont. – It isn’t easy stepping onto a university gridiron for the first time, but 11 newcomers made a quick adjustment to ensure their first impression was a lasting one with their new teams. This year’s rookie standouts showcased big-play talent, steadfast work ethic, and willingness to learn, regardless of the roles they played, which helped coaches, teammates, and fans alike to be quickly enamored with their ability to influence the game. Immediate impacts like this are why they make up the OUA’s crop of 2019 all-rookies.
It didn’t take long for Guelph’s Justin Lauzon (St-Hyacinthe, Que.) to rise to the top of the talented defensive pool, as he earned the OUA’s weekly defensive honour just a few games into his all-rookie campaign. Lauzon anchored the defensive powerhouse Gryphons in their Week 3 win over York, checking off a number of university firsts in the process. He not only registered career sack number one, but also hauled in an interception that he took back 58 yards to the house. The former Cégep Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu standout proceeded to uphold that moniker for the Gryphons, helping the mainstay in the national ranks to a 6-2 regular season. He’d finish his rookie campaign with 21 tackles, two sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, and the aforementioned interception.
While Lauzon was able to contribute in multiple stats, running back Tanner Nelmes (Guelph, Ont.) chipped in across multiple positions. Nelmes not only got some touches in the backfield for the Golden Hawks, but served up a shining moment on the special teams side of the ball as well. The diverse rookie scored his first OUA touchdown in Laurier’s Week 3 tilt with Toronto, blocking a punt, recovering it, and taking it back 42 yards for the major. While the touchdown was the first of Nelmes’ career, it was the second straight week that he got his hands on a punt. He picked up his first such play against the York Lions a week prior. For the year, Nelmes also tacked on 37 yards on 11 carries for the purple and gold.
Nelmes wasn’t the only player to unveil an affinity for special teams heroics, as a member of the Ottawa Gee-Gees turned his knack for the big play into a weekly conference honour. Kevin Victome (Ottawa, Ont.) earned the OUA special teams player of the week nod with a pair of game-changing plays. The first saw the cornerback fly off the edge to block a go-ahead field goal attempt, while the encore saw him race down the field to not only take down the Windsor returner, but force a fumble that led to a major for his squad. When the dust settled on his first season in Garnet and Grey, Victome had rattled off another forced fumble, to go along with four pass breakups and 20 tackles.
Victome was playing his part to prevent the return game, but a member of the York Lions special teams unit was aiming for just the opposite, something he did with great alacrity throughout his debut university campaign. Jaxon Hume was a lynchpin to the Lions’ prowess in the return game, as the Edmonton, Alta. native racked up a second-ranked total of 566 kick return yards on the year. He would also finish eighth in the punt return yardage. Despite this consistent success, the highlight of his season came at the midway point when the Lions squared off with the Gee-Gees in Week 5. Hume hauled in the Ottawa kickoff and proceeded to run it back 107 yards to the house, making him one of just three players to score a kick return touchdown this season.
Hume showed no hesitation when it came to making his mark with his new team; a feat that is also true for Western rookie Kojo Odoom. And while jumping head-first into a long-standing championship roster might be a daunting step for some, it appeared to be just another step for Odoom in his impressive football career. After showcasing his diverse skill set at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School, the Mustangs’ new defensive back proved his value time and time again in his first season with the two-time defending Yates Cup winners. He collected 20 tackles for the purple and white, but showcased more than just his proficient tackling throughout the eight game schedule. The Surrey, B.C. native was also a leader in disrupting the opposition’s aerial attack, pacing the Western defensive corps with four pass breakups on the year; a skill that he parlayed into a pair of interceptions in his first taste of OUA football as well.
Fellow defensive back Wes Simpson (Windsor, Ont.) also wasted little time in getting acclimatized to the university game, as the Windsor Lancers rookie jumped right into an impact role for the blue and gold. In his first game with the Lancers, Simpson picked up three solo tackles – four total – to make his mark and only continued to contribute from there. Simpson recorded multiple tackles in seven games this year and even with his strong start, only seemed to get more and more comfortable as the season wore on. In his final two contests, the team’s third-leading tackler stuffed the stat sheet with career-best marks of 7.5 and eight, respectively, with 13 of those takedowns going down as solo efforts.
Rounding out the defensive honourees are a pair of linemen who put a consistent kink in their opposition’s offensive plans. James Stockwood (Bowmanville, Ont.) was a menace for the Toronto Varsity Blues after bursting onto the scene in Week 2. A four-tackle outing, featuring the first sack of his OUA career, made for a few must-see moments for the rookie, who helped lead Toronto to their first win since 2017 in the process. He would go on to produce 20.5 tackles on the season, including a season-high six the following week at Laurier, will also securing his second tackle for loss in the Varsity Blues’ penultimate game of the season.
Stockwood’s counterpart on the Waterloo Warriors, Trevon Halstead (Brampton, Ont.), also produced a fine season for the black and gold. The first-year Warrior wreaked a little havoc of his own in the opponents’ backfield with a tackle for loss and earned a total of 11 tackles in his seven games played.
While several of this year’s recipients made their mark with a flashy play or a significant scoreboard contribution, a handful do so in the trenches. Three offensive linemen claimed all-rookie honours for their dedicated work and battle-like demeanor up front. Carleton’s Patrick Lavoie (Gatineau, Que.), McMaster’s Taylor Burns (Riverview, N.B.), and Queen’s Evan Floren (Ancaster, Ont.) were each instrumental in protecting their quarterbacks, opening up holes for the run game, and being a physical presence to help their respective offences thrive. Such a role was especially important for the likes of the Ravens and Gaels, as they saw quarterbacks make their first starts under centre, while McMaster saw a sensationally productive season from their pivot in his first full season at the helm.
The complete list of 2019 OUA football all-rookies is:
2019 OUA All-Rookies
Patrick Lavoie, OL, Carleton
Justin Lauzon, LB, Guelph
Taylor Burns, OL, McMaster
Kevin Victome, DB, Ottawa
Evan Floren, OL, Queen’s
James Stockwood, DL, Toronto
Trevon Halstead, DL, Waterloo
Kojo Odoom, DB, Western
Tanner Nelmes, RB, Wilfrid Laurier
Wes Simpson, DB, Windsor
Jaxon Hume, WR, York