Oct. 3, 2012
There are many surprising things that Old Dominion's football team has accomplished in a very short amount of time.
Having three players in the pros definitely qualifies.
For the record, quarterback Thomas DeMarco is with the British Columbia Lions in the Canadian Football League, linebacker Deron Mayo is with their rival Calgary Stampeders, and defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron is on the practice squad for the Cleveland Browns, hoping that any day he'll be activated and playing in the National Football League.
Seems like just the other day when they were creating a memory to last a lifetime.
In the season finale for 2010, that trio created a surreal ending. By game's end, DeMarco was nursing two separated shoulders, but somehow steered the Monarchs to a 33-21 victory over North Carolina Central in Durham, N.C. Cameron was compiling a career-high 14 tackles in a game that would set him up to become the Colonial Athletic Association's defensive player of the year the following season (it was also, at the time, the ODU single-game record). And Mayo was allowing his emotions to show in what could have been his final football game and was most definitely his final college game.
Mayo sobbed while Cameron and DeMarco learned. Those three were the captains of that year's team, along with punter Jonathan Plisco.
They were, in a way, the Monarchs' Three Musketeers.
So it's good to see each having success at the next level.
On Saturday, two of them will be on opposite sidelines in a very big game when Mayo's Stampeders visit DeMarco's Lions. The Stampeders are 8-5. The Lions are 9-4. Both teams have high
hopes for the rest of the season.
"This year is the 100th Grey Cup," said Mayo. "So it's even bigger than the normal Grey Cup."
For those not versed in CFL lingo, the Grey Cup is the Canadian version of the Super Bowl.
Catching back up with DeMarco, Mayo and Cameron reminded me of what good guys they all are. And well spoken, each of them. When I teased Mayo - and it takes guts to tease a 5-foot-11, 230- pound linebacker who could squash me like a bug - he laughed the hearty laugh of a cowboy.
"Who told you I play guitar and like country music?" Mayo asked. When I told him I have my sources, he said, "Yeah, OK, there's a guitar at my side right now. You got me."
What Mayo has is a chance to play professional football, and he's loving it. Mostly, he gets on the field for special teams play "and nickel packages."
I asked about that last game he played for ODU. There weren't many ODU fans there, with it being a road game. Few saw him cry.
"I knew it could possibly be it," Mayo said. "All of the sudden the relationships I'd built ... in a way they were over. I saw the seconds of my career ticking away on the clock."
But it wasn't the end for Mayo, who would get a tryout with the Denver Broncos last season and would eventually stick with the Stampeders.
Still, Mayo taught DeMarco a lesson that day.
"When you watch the emotions pour from a guy like Deron, it lets you know what the game means to him," DeMarco said. "He acted out of character that day, and it was rewarding to watch and prepared me for my senior season."
DeMarco's senior campaign wasn't what anyone expected. Rather than go out with a bang, he watched from the sidelines, unseated by a phenomenal freshman who wouldn't give up the QB spot
once DeMarco went down with a severe ankle injury.
DeMarco watched Taylor Heinicke put on a dazzling display last fall. This fall, he's watching Travis Lulay, who was the MVP of last year's Grey Cup, which the Lions won.
"I'd love to get on the field to punt or anything with the special teams, but I can't because then I'd count against the import count," DeMarco said.
The CFL has some really strange rules. Each game, the roster is pared to 42 players; 20 Canadians, 19 imports and three quarterbacks, who can all be American. Thus, DeMarco holds a
"I play for my Grey Gup during the week," he said. "Great organizations are strong from top to bottom, so if I'm the scout team quarterback, then so be it. I'll be the best scout team quarterback a team could have."
Mayo, for one, wishes DeMarco would be promoted, at least for a day.
"Oh, I wish Thomas was playing Saturday," Mayo said. "I wish he was starting for the Lions."
There was a devilish growl in Mayo's voice as he said it, as if he'd like to give chase to DeMarco, much like a lion chases a gazelle.
In reality, DeMarco wouldn't mind being chased by Mayo.
"I truly believe I have a future in this league," DeMarco said. "I think I'm going to end up playing for someone in this league."
As for what happens between their teams on Saturday, DeMarco said that he at least knows when it's over he can do like the other players and meet at midfield with an old friend.
"It's been kind of weird for me," DeMarco said. "All my teammates go to midfield and talk with guys they know. I've only been able to do that once and that was when we played Deron's team the first time around. Of course, we beat them pretty bad and he really wasn't in much of a talkative mood. But it was good to be able to ask, `How's it going?' "
Back in the U.S., Cameron believes it's only a matter of time before he dons a real, authentic game-day uniform for an NFL team and plays in "The League."
He spends his weeks as a member of the Cleveland Browns' practice squad, picking up a paycheck and checking the waivers wires to see what teams are making moves and if anybody needs a
defensive tackle. Cameron could be picked up by anyone, so he works as hard as he can every day in practice.
"I'd like to think I've always had that work ethic and that it will pay off," Cameron said. "I realize that you can't tap out physically every day. Whether you are an athlete or working in an office, it's impossible to give 100 percent every day. It just is. But you do your best and hope it pays off somewhere down the road."
With these three, the first three to get somewhere in pro football after playing for the Monarchs, ODU could do a lot worse.
"I think people in professional football are beginning to get a feel that if you get a player from ODU, you are getting a good person," Mayo said. "I think we've set a standard for the players who are coming up behind us. I think we've showed good character."