Mustangs name key football recruits

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Dec. 10, 2007 was probably a busy day for most other Western students. Exams were just getting underway and campus reeked of stress, studying, and caffeine.

Western students were not the only ones hard at work, though.

The Mustangs football team’s coaching staff was focused on an ambitious project, which it hopes will solidify the future.

That project got its start exactly one month after the ’Stangs won their 27th Yates Cup, when head coach Greg Marshall and company made an unprecedented move " one they hope will bring even more championships to an already decorated program.

On Dec. 10, Western football announced that three recruits had committed to the program early, forgoing the usual tradition of announcing the entire recruiting class during the summer.

David Lee (linebacker/tight end), Mike Van Praet (defensive/offensive line), and Donnie Marshall (quarterback) will not only wear Purple and Silver in 2008, they also share another characteristic: all three players hail from London.

The coaching staff hopes the attention surrounding the early commitments of these players will motivate other local products to stay close to home for their university ball.

“What we really want to do is get the best kids from London here,” said Western’s defensive assistant coach Mike Circelli, who was heavily involved in the recruiting process.

“London has a great foundation for football. If we get started early and get some kids committed, we hope it’s like a snowball effect and [they] recruit other kids.”

In the three players that have committed to Western, the program has three proven winners. David Lee, who played for the A.B. Lucas Vikings, was named MVP in London high school football.

“I’m very, very excited. It’s a lot of stress off my back and right now I’m just gearing up for next season,” Lee said, who lists speed and passion for the game as his two biggest assets.

While Lee took home MVP honours after the 2007 high school season, Van Praet and Marshall also bring some hardware to Western’s gridiron. The teammates won a provincial title with the Mother Teresa Spartans.

That championship gives Van Praet another ring to wear on his finger. Van Praet, along with current Mustangs teammates Conor Elliot, Craig Butler and Ben Roberts, won an Ontario Varsity Football League title in 2005 with the London Falcons.

Van Praet is the player the coaching staff believes is most “game ready,” and was recognized as London’s top high school lineman this past season.

Like Van Praet and Lee, pivot Donnie Marshall also drew national attention.

Marshall settled on Western because he “loves the coaches.” He should. The coach with the most pull is also the guy that cuts his grass and takes out his garbage " his dad, Western head coach Greg Marshall.

The senior Marshall made it clear his son will get no preferential treatment.

“He has to understand that I have a job to do,” Marshall said. “My job and my reputation are based on the fact that I will recruit the best players, coach the best players, play the best players, and win football games. I’m never going to let [family ties] get in the way of that. I can’t.

“The integrity of my position is such that the best players have to play. If you go out in the games and produce, you play. If you don’t ... you sit.”

If past successes mean anything, then Western might want to milk London’s football market for all it’s worth.

Fifth-year veteran and London football product Randy McAuley waved goodbye to the Mustangs this year after a half decade of production.

In 2007 McAuley lead the nation in rushing touchdowns, left Western holding multiple school records and led the squad to an Ontario University Athletics title.

How many more Randy McAuleys are on the high school horizon across the Forest City? That’s the question Western football wants to get to the bottom of, and one it hopes will be answered in another Yates Cup victory.

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