The privilege of playing at the varsity level in university is something few get the chance to experience. For Eric Hewitson, a second-year English major and UTM student, playing for the Varsity Blues is a dream come true. A Cambridge, Ontario native, Hewitson started playing football in grade 10, but didn’t discover his talent for kicking until later in high school. “I really had no attraction to the art of kicking until, one day in gym class, the coach of the senior football team asked me to go out and kick some field goals,” says Hewitson.
To Hewitson’s surprise, his ability to boot field goals came quite naturally and he earned a spot on the high school football team. Hewitson has been working to improve his kicking ability ever since. “The craft is very addicting and challenges me mentally to be the best I can possibly be,” he says.
Having started off without much experience in the sport, Hewitson credits his high school coach Mark Hatt with helping him realize his potential, and his current U of T Varsity Blues coaches Ken Mazurek and Greg Gary with helping him grow as a player.
Though Hewitson found his calling in football, he initially improved his kicking strength by playing soccer. “I had played soccer at a high level for seven years before I first started kicking field goals, kickoffs, and punts,” says Hewitson, who is now the Varsity Blues’ designated placekicker. “Soccer helped me to increase my leg strength and [the] accuracy needed to be a good placekicker,” he says. “Once I started playing football, I fell in love with the atmosphere and I saw a football field as a much more challenging place to be.”
Hewitson is now in his second year with U of T’s top football squad; he was pursued by the Varsity Blues while still in high school and has worked tirelessly with coaches and CIS kickers to improve his kicking. This dedication earned him a spot on the Blues’ roster.
The allure of playing for the storied Varsity Blues organization and the world-class education he would receive from the University of Toronto swayed him to select the school as his number one choice. “I wanted to be part of the Varsity Blues football program more than any other program in the country,” says Hewitson. “I wanted to be part of an organization that had an incredible coaching staff and was on the rise to success in the CIS. On the academics side, there’s no better degree to have in the country than [from the] University of Toronto. It makes me and my family very proud.”
As Hewitson looks ahead at possible career opportunities, he is keeping his options open, but leaning toward a career in the world of sports journalism. “I have strong aspirations to become a sportswriter,” he says. “The university has great English and expressive writing courses that I am currently taking advantage of, and what better place to learn how to write [about] sports than Toronto?”
In the meantime, Hewitson is fully booked with football commitments and the ever-growing pile of coursework U of T students are familiar with. “Finding time to manage football and school during the months of September and October is difficult,” he adds. “If you have a strong desire to do well in the classroom you will always find time to get your work done. Having school and football just means I’m always busy.”
Though sports journalism is his fallback, Hewitson hasn’t ruled out the possibility of kicking it into high gear and turning professional. And playing on the varsity level, including in games shown on TV, has given Hewitson and his teammates university- and city-wide fame that could expose him to the big leagues.
His UTM connections on the team are another factor that has helped his on-field confidence and helped him succeed in the program. “Having other Varsity Blues players that go to UTM, like Jordan and Justin Marra, has helped me to feel more confident in my abilities,” he says. “These veterans are very talented, encouraging, and inspirational. They treat you like an equal and challenge you to become a better athlete every day.”
Hewitson is optimistic about the Blues’ championship chances in the coming years. “This Varsity Blues program is on the rise, and winning a Yates cup is something we’re striving for in the years to come,” he observes.
Students will have two more chances to see Hewitson rocket the ball in October when the Varsity Blues play their final games of the season against York University on October 10 and the University of Waterloo on October 19.