Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Curbing the (bad) enthusiasm

Justin Dunk is an emotional football player.

Whether it’s an emphatic fist pump after a crucial third-down conversion, a team-rallying call to arms in the huddle or the now-famous “F*** Western” exclamation on national television, it’s safe to say that when the game is on the line, Dunk’s emotions run high.

But what happens when these displays become too much? What happens when emotions start negatively affecting gameplay?

Following Dunk’s impromptu and uncensored Homecoming comments about the rival Mustangs, the fifth-year quarterback was suspended by the department of athletics for one game. At the time of his suspension, the Gryphons were being named among the nation’s most potent and dangerous teams.

And since Dunk’s return to the gridiron?

A three game losing streak that has left the team reeling as it approaches its quarter-final playoff matchup against those same Mustangs. Dunk’s play has fallen off considerably; he’s not getting the ball downfield and appears to be lacking the confidence and consistency in his decision-making. With potentially just one game left in his university career, this is surely not the way that the most successful quarterback in Gryphons history wants to be remembered.

But those emotional displays that have characterized Dunk’s play for the past five years, for better or for worse, keep hurting his chances.

In Saturday’s game against McMaster, with the Gryphons trailing early, Dunk got his team on the move, making a series timely throws, mixed in with some big runs by himself and running back Nick Fitzgibbon. With the Gryphons driving, Dunk converted a critical 2nd-and-long situation with an elusive 16-yard scramble. The big play, however, was marred by a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct that Dunk received following the end of the play for making an emphatic first-down gesture directly in front of the official. Having already been jawing with Marauder players throughout the game, head coach Kyle Walters promptly benched Dunk for the rest of the series, replacing him with backup Chris Rossetti. The Gryphon drive stalled and their momentum dissipated. Dunk’s timing couldn’t have been worse.

The benching was short-lived as Dunk returned for the Gryphons next series, helping to rally his team from behind, only to fall three points short in the end. Despite his second half success, one can’t help but wonder that if Dunk had simply handed the ball to the official following his scramble and returned to the huddle that the game outcome might have been different.

Make no mistake about it; Justin Dunk is a great football player. He’s got a cannon for a right arm, the elusiveness of a running back and the speed of a wide receiver, making him the most dangerous player on the field at all times. Few players parallel his leadership skills and athletic abilities and when his career is finished, many CIS leaderboards for career passing accomplishments will feature his name being listed among the best to ever take a snap in this league.

And yet the question remains; how will he be remembered?

Dunk and the Gryphons are on the ropes. They travel to London this weekend as heavy underdogs with most people questioning their ability to recapture that early season offensive potency.

To succeed, their leader and most talented player will have to play the game of his life and keep his emotions in check. The Gryphons are sliding and are in need of a spark.

Justin Dunk’s legacy may depend on it.