Looking ahead to this month’s Touchdown Dinner celebration, presented by the 1881 Football Alumni Association, uOttawa is pleased to profile each of its new Football Hall of Fame Inductees. Josh Sacobie, the program record holder for career passing yards and touchdowns and 2006 Yates Cup MVP, will enter the Hall of Fame as the third inductee to have played in 2005 or later.
The Touchdown Dinner celebration presented by the 1881 Football Alumni Association will be held at the National Arts Centre on Saturday, April 28 to honour the accomplishments of Sacobie and fellow inductees Steve Alexandre, Marcel Bellefeuille, Al Moffat, and the 1965 team. Tickets can be purchased here for $150 each with tables of 10 available. Registration is open to all alumni, family, and friends of the Gee-Gees football program. The registration deadline is April 23.
A proud Maritimer from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Josh Sacobie was dressed for his first Gee-Gees game in 2004 but insists his jersey didn’t get dirty during the win. The future hall-of-famer had seen success at Champlain-Lennoxville, but when he met head coach Denis Piché and defensive coordinator Danny Laramee at a run-down gym in Montreal he wasn’t promised anything. “I remember them specifically because they stood out to me. They were poised, and they were honest.”
Sacobie came to Ottawa four months before the season started to get settled in – running ladders and routes with receivers at Matt Anthony Field at 7 a.m. each day. That decision helped to ensure that when he was called upon at halftime of OUA career game number three he knew the offence confidently and he was ready. Sacobie, who had also thrown a few passes the week prior, led the Gee-Gees to a come-from-behind win and took over the starting quarterbacks job for the next five seasons.
With a solid base of 1440 yards in his first year, Sacobie would go on to set the Gee-Gees program record of 9885 regular season passing yards over his career. His 79 career touchdowns in the regular season remains tied for second all-time in U SPORTS football history. He is quick to credit his team mates.
“In my first year, there were a lot of young players and the competition was high. I loved that, because we pushed each other and grew together. It meant your team mates had a profound impact on you.”
“The group of receivers we had was diverse in skill, we had everything,” says Sacobie. “Everyone brought something unique on the field and personally and we communicated incredibly well. We were successful when our harmony and synergy was clicking at its finest.”
“There was always something smooth about how Josh played the game,” explains team mate Kyle Kirkwood. “Watching him every day, we got used to seeing him doing extraordinary things with the utmost ease. When you block for a quarterback as special as him, you find that little extra to ensure he stays healthy and can win you football games.”
There were a lot of wins along with all those passing yards and touchdowns, and after a pair of OUA semifinal appearances in 2004 and 2005, the Yates Cup came to Ottawa in 2006.
“That year is one that we talk about with great emotion,” says Sacobie, referring to his team mates. “We felt we could have won the whole thing. We had so many all-star awards that year [11 in addition to head coach Denis Piché winning CIS coach of the Year and offensive lineman Naim El-Far winning the Russ Jackson Award] it was such a testament to how strong that team was.”
“The defence challenged the offence to be what we were because they were doing such a great job. The two units really complemented each-other. Depth was a big thing that year too – at running back, at linebacker, our senior veteran o-line – there were great athletes all around the field ready to make plays.”
Leaning heavily on his rushers in the second half of a rain-soaked Yates Cup, Sacobie was named the game MVP with a 23-for-38, 220-yard performance. “I’m going to go a little broke now,” joked Sacobie in 2006, “I’m going to have to buy the o-line some treats.”
“His most valuable attribute was his perseverance,” says one of those linemen, Kevin Kelly. “It did not matter what was happening in a game, number 15 would always find a way to overcome and make plays for his team.”
In 2007 the Gee-Gees were a sparkling 8-0 in regular season play and Sacobie was named the OUA Most Valuable Player. It was his most prolific season, adding 2320 yards and 21 touchdowns to his career totals. It was the final season for many of the veteran players that Sacobie had played with, and he was tempted to finish with them.
“There were always great leaders in the program, so I felt no pressure to take that on early in my career,” explains Sacobie. “The class before me cast such a big shadow of influence and I had a massive amount of respect for them. I always cared about the collectivity of the program, and with them gone I felt the need to step-up more as a leader in my fifth year.”
In addition to his body of work on the field, Josh had also recognized the value of leading as a student-athlete. He became an ambassador - leading speaking engagements, football camps, and mentoring Indigenous youth. “You get unique opportunities as a student-athlete. At first, I was a bit scared of it but at the same time I am the kind of person that goes towards things that scare me.”
Shortly after graduation, Sacobie secured a position at Football Canada where he worked for four years. “I wanted to stay in Ottawa and build a career here,” says the former Technical Coordinator who now coaches full-time at Carleton. In addition to his work at the national office, Sacobie has represented Canada internationally as a player at the 2011 IFAF Senior Men’s World Championship and as a coach with the Senior Women’s World Championship team in 2010.
“At Football Canada I worked under Rick Sowieta and he trusted me to take on program development, national teams, coach education, community outreach, and Aboriginal initiatives. I was very fortunate.”
“In New Brunswick, football was not the most popular sport by any means, so few people were playing. Today, I see the grassroots and developing programs back home getting much better and I find myself taking interest in the stories of young athletes from there because I know what it’s like.”
Sacobie has also found pleasure in seeing the continued success of Gee-Gees quarterbacks following in his footsteps. He threw passes to Brad Sinopoli and coached Aaron Colbon in 2011 as a member of the coaching staff.
“To see the ongoing success at quarterback makes you smile and makes you grateful to be part of that group. The advice from alumni and older players is always the same – to enjoy your time because it’s special and dear,” says Sacobie earnestly. “That advice is cyclical and the great tradition of the program is what makes it so impactful.”