In casual conversation, Steve Sumarah is an instantly likeable person with a quick smile and a laugh.
But when the discussion turns to football and the upcoming 2013 Ravens season, Sumarah, a native of Nova Scotia, gets serious. Fielding Carleton’s first football team in 14 years is serious business, after all.
With less than a year before the team hits the field, he admits that there’s a lot of pressure.
“I don’t think anyone can put as much pressure on me as I am going to put on myself. There’s very, very few opportunities in life to be able to put your stamp on everything to do with the program – from the how the building looks, how the locker room looks, the way the gear is going to be, to the people on the field … I take great pride that we have built a really good plan.
“The pressure is if this plan fails, then I fail …. The nature of the game is that it’s very scrutinized anyway. Within our staff, we have already addressed this. Our biggest challenge is that we do it right. We can’t let people from the outside pressure us to do it the way that they think. We believe in this and we will run the gamut with this and we think we will be successful.”
The former Saint Mary’s football coach knows that for the first while his performance will come under the microscope but he hopes the focus will shift to his players.
“If we can have this place packed … and everybody in Ottawa talking about Carleton football – then I am ok with it,” says Sumarah.
“The most important people in your program are your student athletes and I would like to see, once we’ve established that, our student athletes get these accolades and have people know about them. My job is to start the bus up and get it moving but I think once those guys get on board, it’s going to be them who make for very interesting stories.”
He knows that his players have to have success not only on the field but also in the classroom, and he’s ensured that the players will have ongoing academic support. He expects that the makeup of the team will be about 50 per cent from eastern Ontario, 20 per cent from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 15 per cent from Quebec, 10 per cent from the west, and the remainder from the Maritimes. In fact, a few of his former players from Saint Mary’s have already signed on.
“We get to build a culture. The first year guys coming in get an opportunity to be leaders which, in most programs, takes years for them to evolve into that role. Those kinds of things are attracting people.”
Part of his job is also managing expectations about the team’s performance.
“We have not said we’re going to win the Vanier Cup in our first year. Our goal is that we’d like to win a game. If we can win a game in our first year, doing it the right way, with a bunch of first-year guys, I think we have a chance to be very successful – keeping those guys together for an extended period of time.”
He uses the expression “the right way” regularly and by that he means that the players are respectful, accountable, successful in their academics, and give back to the community.
Part of his coaching style – influenced by Canadian Football League great and longtime Saint Mary’s football coach Larry Uteck – will be to ensure that the players follow the “right way” model.
“It’s all about the people. That’s the message that we’re trying to share with everybody that we come into contact with – all the recruits, the coaches – everybody that’s going to be a part of this,” explains Sumarah.
“If we’re strong as a group, then we will be strong forever. Larry was big on that. Even at our athletic department at Saint Mary’s, he believed in unity and working together. Larry was one of those guys I was always amazed at – he just had a real feel for the game.”
As of mid-August, 15 players had been recruited. Sumarah says he expects that number to go to 20 this month, to 40 by December and to about 80 by April 2013.
By the time the team has been recruited, the new training facility is built and the season is about to start, Sumarah expects the campus to be buzzing with excitement.
“There’s nothing better than football in the fall. It’s the kickoff to your whole school year, there’s always positive energy around it, it’s exciting, and it really generates a lot of school spirit. I think Carleton is really going to embrace it,” he says.
“The hardest thing is just making sure that we educate people on what we’re doing and that this is a process. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s going to take time. We’re going to plea for a little patience and I think if we have that, I think people will be pretty excited by the end result.”