After five years at the helm of the senior squad, head coach Brent Richer has stepped down. The decision did not come as a huge surprise to most who know the talkative football man well, with the recent addition of a son to the Richer household playing a large part in the decision.
"There's always those moments where you're going to miss the battles, but we always tell our players that family comes first," said Richer before the beginning of festivities at the Caruso Club last night.
"Sometimes, as volunteers, we forget about that ourselves. This will be the first time since 1995 that I've had a summer off."
Since taking over the reins in 2009, Richer and company have been part of a program that has created a great deal of competitiveness and stability within the summer junior football landscape in Sudbury.
"This is a class organization," Richer stated. "They treated us like gold as a coaching staff. Whatever we said we needed, they gave us."
Still a young man by football coaching standards at just 35 years of age, Richer has witnessed a growth in his development during his tenure with the Glads.
"I'm not as animated on the sidelines as I was in 2009 when I started," he said with a laugh. "Everything then was such a big deal. As time goes on, you mature. You realize that everything is fixable.
"At the end of the day, our job is to teach and to coach. What lesson are you teaching them by screaming at them on every play?"
While he knows the time is right to step away, the longtime NFC defensive back admits the status of the team, in terms of the development of this particular group of talent, made the decision that much tougher.
"This team might have struggled as far as what you would consider a good season by our standards, but the potential here far outweighs the record," he noted. "This is a three-year team."
Among the core of talent that will look to take a step forward next summer, linebacker/fullback/all-purpose player Matt Kuzenko represents, as well as anyone, the upside that exists. In just his first year with the varsity team, the St. Charles College senior was recognized as team MVP on Wednesday.
With only one year of junior varsity ball under his belt, Kuzenko suggested that in his case, it wasn't necessarily the traditional adjustment to bigger, stronger opponents that created the toughest challenge.
"If I was going to say anything to the juniors, I would probably tell them to work on their speed," he acknowledged. "And when the coaches say to watch the game film, watch the game film. You have a lot of training in the off-season."
Surprised by the MVP honours, Kuzenko offered a realistic assessment of his own performance this summer.
"I had a better second half of the year than I did the first," he said. "It took me a while to get used to it. It was a giant step for me. I'm a bigger, slower kind of guy. Coming from four-down football, you stuffed the run a lot and they passed once in a while. Here, they pass regularly and you have to cover the pass.
"It's just lots of footwork, lots of running and lots of conditioning."
Despite posting a 4-4 record that would leave the Gladiators outside of the playoff scene, with the tie-breaker not going their way, Kuzenko easily recalled some of his more memorable moments this year.
"I had to play defensive tackle for Matt Langevin against Toronto and they had a Jesus-big guard," Kuzenko said. "Three-hundred-and-ten-pounds and I was getting thrown around all game. It was a learning experience. You learn to keep your bucket down and try and keep your feet planted."
While Kuzenko would see playing time at multiple positions, it was at middle linebacker that he finds himself most comfortable.
"I really like getting in people's faces and making friends at the line," he said.
Picking up all of the nuances required to star in the very heart of the defence, Kuzenko is fortunate to learn from one of the best that Sudbury has ever produced in coach Mike Fabiilli.
"It's the smallest things that he teaches," said Kuzenko. "A step-check, taking a smaller step-check, knowing when to open or to close, to chase the play and never give up. I've never seen game film of coach Fabiilli, but I'm hoping I could be even half the player that he was."
Missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Gladiators show signs, currently, of already being anxious for next summer to come. In the eyes of Kuzenko, an improvement in mindset could go a long way towards putting the locals back on course.
"I find that our biggest problem is that we beat ourselves up," he said. "We get down on ourselves and it's just not a good scene. We got scored on by Huronia early, and for the rest of that game, we just didn't have that edge."
With any luck, the experience of university ball that will be garnered by the likes of Bauer Negrych and Tanaka Chakwesha, among others, will pay dividends with their return in the summer of 2014.
Following is a listing of the various award winners that were recognized at the Gladiators banquet:
Team MVP - Matt Kuzenko
Offensive MVP - Austin Kirkey
Defensive MVP - Joe Jelen
Special Teams MVP - Christian Battistelli
Lineman of the Year - Spencer Daily
Gladiator of the Year - Matt Glass
Team MVP - Miller Donnelly
Offensive MVP - Jordan Lacelle
Defensive MVP - Miller Donnelly
Special Teams MVP - Thomas Rideout
Lineman of the Year - Eric Fraser
Gladiator of the Year - Brandon Maki/Brandan Dumouchel