By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Featured image by: bluebombers.com
St. Norbert product Charles Gillen prides himself on being a leader both on and off the football field.
On the gridiron, it’s his positivity that’s contagious.
“I love getting the guys hyped up,” he says passionately. “Even if you make a mistake, I’m still going to hype you up for the next play, that kind of thing.”
And Gillen has the productivity to back up his enthusiasm. A constant for the Celtics since grade nine, the six-foot-three, 215-pound athlete has played essentially every position on the defence except for defensive tackle, while offensively he’s been a running back and receiver.
“I just fit both roles,” he says of his versatility. “Offensively, I love making cuts. I want to score. Defensively, I love coverage and I love tackling.”
Gillen’s dedication to the sport was keyed in on early, as he was invited to a Top Prospects camp after his grade nine season. That’s also the first time he started seriously thinking about playing at the next level.
Over the next three years, Gillen began personally sending his mid-season and end of season highlights to every single university recruiting coordinator across Canada.
“One of the things that I heard from the Top Prospects camp, is that you’ve got to go out of your way to send [your tape] to [recruiters], because they’re looking at thousands of kid’s films,” he says.
“And if you’re sending it right to them, there’s a higher chance that they’ll look at yours, so that’s why I started doing that.”
Gillen’s work on the field, and diligence in sending out his highlight tapes every year caught the eye of many recruiters. By his grade 12 season, he had narrowed down his choice of school to Waterloo, Queen’s, Bishop’s, Mount Allison and Saskatchewan.
Off the field, Gillen is just as dedicated. Since grade 10, he’s been part of jack.org – a mental health/peer support network that has a chapter at his school. One of the group’s duties is to provide presentations and workshops that promote positive mental health, while also eliminating the stigma around mental illness.
Gillen says he joined the group after one of his friends expressed feelings of depression. He wanted to be able to do something to help, not only for this individual, but others as well.
“Because everyone kind of knew me from football, I was able to use [the support network] as a platform to promote a really good message,” he says.
“The people who you don’t think could suffer could honestly be suffering, and when it’s too late, you lose someone super close that you love. So that was one of the biggest reasons I joined the group.”
Interestingly, it was the 18-year-old who benefitted from peer guidance in his senior year. His family wasn’t super high on him leaving the city to play football, and he ultimately found himself living with a friend in late April while also working.
“At first my emotions were high and I was kind of on edge, thinking about if this was the best thing. Now I’m pretty calm and it’s just natural for me,” he says of his current living situation.
“We have a lot of help [at St. Norbert]. People are always willing to talk to you. One of the biggest reasons I like St. Norbert is because you can open up. I was talking to the principle and the guidance counsellor and they were giving me advice to figure out everything myself, so it was really good.”
A few weeks after moving out, he took his first, and only official visit to Waterloo.
“I wasn’t exactly planning on committing, I was thinking about it, so I went on a visit,” he says. “And just the atmosphere, right away you just get that feeling that yeah, this is it, this is the place for me.”
Gillen, who will be suiting up at running back for the Warriors, is set to leave the first week of August for his new home. In the meantime, he’ll be working as well as training for the season.
On top of being a varsity athlete, Gillen will also be putting in some serious work in the books, as he knows exactly what he wants to do academically.
“I just love law,” he says. “When I was younger, I watched the trial of OJ Simpson and it made me interested in the legal process. I plan to take psychology and legal studies and eventually get into law school.”