10 Questions with (Academic Coach) Mike Wojcicki

Tell us your history with the Wildcats

I played for the Cats for four years. The first year I tried out, I actually got cut. I tried out as quarterback, got cut, and came back the next year. They told me to pick a new position so I went to receiver and made the team. The first year I was only on the field for two plays, and then the next three years I started. We went to Nationals in ’06 and ’09 and I was team captain for my last year.

One of the coaching roles you are stepping into is “Academic Coach”. What does this role entail?

It’s mostly helping the guys plan and prepare for post secondary. What I want to do is be there for the guys to come to if they have questions about requirements to get into post secondary, the classes they need to take, or what their GPA needs to be. Offer the little tips that nobody tells you – like in my first year with the Cats I was taking 5 classes at the same time and it was ridiculous. I’ll also be there if they have any questions while in University, like needing help getting a paper done or how to format it. If I can’t help them, then I can refer to someone who can.

You’re a teacher now… Tell us about your career and your educational background.

I graduated university in the spring of 2010. I wanted to start teaching right away but I got a call from the U of A asking if I would go back for football. So I went back and played, and subbed on the side. When I finished my classes in April, I worked at Holy Trinity Catholic High until June, and then I went back for one more semester and played my last year of football. Last year I taught Jr. High phys ed and science at St. Rose and this year I am teaching phys ed and math at Oscar Romero High School.

Why is having an “Academic Coach” important or beneficial to the Wildcats?

The biggest advantage to it is having an advocate for the players. For me personally, it would have been a lot harder if I didn’t have my brother at university. It’s a point of reference for the players – a lot of people don’t know what they can do or should be doing to upgrade. When you’ve been out of high school for a few years, there’s not the same resources to go to for information. So I am going to try to be that person that if one of the players does want to go back to school, I can at least point them in the right direction.

Is this something that a lot of Football teams have, or is it something that is unique to the Wildcats?

I think it is unique in the CJFL. As far as I know, 99% of CIS teams have a coach – most of them I think are actually paid members on staff. But as far as I know there are no other teams in the CJFL with an academic coach right now. I was in this role with the U of A Bears, and education is so paramount there – if you don’t have a strong GPA, you’re not on the team the next year. It’s stressful! What a lot of CJFL players don’t realize is there are government scholarships available to junior football players. Obviously not everyone can get one because there is a limited amount of money, but they should at least be aware of it and applying for it.

Where did the idea for this position come from?

It came from the U of A Bears. [Head Coach] Darcy approached me and asked if it was something I would like to do. I think there are a lot of guys who slip through the cracks – they want to go back to school, but they don’t know how or what they need. So they end up going to a different university just so they can play football, but they’re not taking the program they want. I want to make sure that our players don’t miss out on any opportunities because they didn’t have the information going in. I am so happy that I went back and played 2 more years. I was offered the opportunity to play with the Bears while I was still with the Wildcats, but I waited until my eligibility with the Cats was over, and then I went and played for the Bears which was an unreal experience. I just don’t want guys missing out on it if they really want to play football because you don’t get to do it for the rest of your life.

Why did you not go with the Bears when you first had the opportunity – why did you choose to stay with the Cats?

Because of the environment of the Cats – I made the best friendships. I have so many good friends from the Bears that I am still friends with, but the closeness and the community feel that you get with the Cats, I felt was a lot stronger. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that when the Cats get together we have such a small clubhouse and such a small team– the Cats have 60 and the Bears have 80. The extra 20 makes a difference. And with the Bears we’re sharing space with other varsity athletes, which is a cool experience, but you’re meeting other people and your family is getting bigger and the bigger family makes it harder to get to know each other. I just felt that I owed the Cats something. When I first graduated, the Huskies and Wildcats talked to me. Bears had no idea who I was. Then after tryouts to get ready for Spring Camp, I wanted to go to the Huskies camp – they were my first choice but there wasn’t room for me at the camp so I got cut before the recruiting even started. The Cats at least gave me a shot – like I got cut by the Cats, but they at least recruited me. They wanted me to come back and when I came back, they tried to find me a new position so I just felt that I owed them something… Not just play for a couple of years and then leave, I felt that I owed them my time. It’s the same thing now with this position, I feel like I owe the Cats to come back and help. I help out with Spring Camps and the occasional practice, but they gave me four years. I don’t know what kind of person I would be if I hadn’t been with the Cats, so I feel like I’m kind of giving back that way.

In addition to the academic coach, you’re going to be the special teams assistant coach. Define this.

Kicking coach, more or less. The funny thing is when I played all through minor and high school and both with the Cats and Bears, I’ve always been the back-up kicker and I think it is partially because I’ve always had a starting role and they didn’t want to take me out of that role. When I was with the Cats, the first year was pretty good – we had Ryan Elaschuk, and he started all 5 years. At one point I think he had the record for most points in CJFL history so there was no way I was starting over him. And going into my last year I was supposed to be the kicker and I was kind of freaking out so I brought in a buddy who was a soccer player. He was unbelievable. One thing I noticed is that with Ryan, he went to enough camps that he could kind of self-coach. Then my buddy Ben came after Ryan left. If Ryan wouldn’t have come, Ben would have been okay because he’s a really good soccer player and athlete but he wouldn’t have had the technique. And even if I look at a lot of the Cats kickers now, I work with them a little bit, you just don’t know what you’re doing when someone is watching and if you look the receivers have their own coach, quarterbacks have their own coach, and kickers kind of get left on their own because they’re this weird hybrid position. They don’t go through the contact drills, they don’t need the same conditioning that everyone else does – it’s a unique skill set. So that is kind of my role – to make sure that they’re taken care of. They’re putting in the exact same amount of time that everyone else is, they should receive the same level of coaching.

So how will that help the players throughout the season?

Just having an advocate. I know a lot of times if they miss a field goal they go and practice kicking 30 field goals but your legs get exhausted. Or in the middle of the week, you get bored so you kick for two hours in a row. But you can’t do that because your foot gets bruised and your legs get tired. Then the weekend comes and you realize that you can’t kick because you’ve been kicking for two hours every single day. It’s like if you’re working in a labour job, and you move your family over a weekend. Well you’re going to be tired because it’s a physically demanding job. That’s another thing I learned from Ryan and when I was with the Bears and Hugh O’Neil was there (he’s now with the BC Lions). Just watching him in practice and in games, you can’t put yourself as part of the team because it’s such an emotionally and mentally difficult thing. He would sit on the opposite side of the bench as everyone else, just him and his kicking coach, and they would just sit and watch the game as a spectator – not as a teammate. Because then the pressure wouldn’t be there for his kicks, it’s just oh I’m going to kick a ball, whereas a lot of the Cats guys would be jumping up and down and doing the team chants, which is cool, but that kind of puts you in an unfocused state on what you need to get done. So that’s kind of what I want to help with. Moreso on game day and practices where they really need the assist.

Having played with the Wildcats, how does it feel to come back to the team?

It’s awesome. I love going back and helping out, even when we had the winter workouts I got to go in a little bit. Whenever I go back and see former Wildcats that I played with, it feels like you haven’t seen them in forever and yet it hasn’t been that long either. It’s kind of a cool feeling where we’re the same old Cat friends that we were when we practiced. And with our old clothes and tattered up shorts, it’s the same EW logo that everyone else is still wearing and I like that sense – just the alumni feeling with the Cats is special. The Bears kind of had it, like I know they have a really strong alumni group, but you don’t really feel that presence at practice, and I found with the Cats there is always going to be someone coming back. As a player you kind of don’t really get it until your last few years, and even now looking back I miss playing for the Cats so I try to help out as much as I can.