Fredericton native Chris Munn, who joined the Mount Allison Mounties five years after graduating from Leo Hayes High School in 2002, will play for the East side in today’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport East-West Bowl in London, Ont.

Munn making up for lost time

By Bill Hunt

Geography might tell a different story, but you could certainly make a case for Chris Munn as the man who has come the farthest to get to the East-West Bowl.

The eighth annual edition of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport showcase for Canadian Football League 2011 draft-eligible talent pits players from the Atlantic and Quebec football conferences, along with three Ontario schools, against the Ontario schools from west of the Greater Toronto area and York University.

It's 1,373 kilometres from the Sackville campus where Munn's Mount Allison Mounties play, to the London, Ont., campus of the University of Western Ontario and T.D. Waterhouse Stadium, the site of today's contest.

But that might have been the easiest part of the journey for the 25-year-old Fredericton native.

Consider that the five-foot-11, 311-pound offensive lineman graduated from Leo Hayes High School in 2002 - he was a teammate of, and overshadowed by, quarterback Josh Sacobie, who went on to a record-setting CIS career with the Ottawa Gee-Gees - but didn't begin his own university career until suiting up with the Mounties in 2007.

In the interim, he played with the Capital Area Gladiators, the local entry in the Maritime Senior Football League and went to the University of New Brunswick to pursue a business degree.

"Then I decided that if I ever wanted to give it a shot and not regret it when I was older, I better go back and play some football."

Senior ball helped to keep that dormant dream alive.

"I don't think if I had stopped playing completely, I could have jumped up to play CIS after five years off," he said. "I think that helped bridge the gap a little bit."

It helped too, that he added some "man muscle" as he calls it, growing from a little over 200 pounds to his current 311.

That's where the needle stopped when he weighed in for CFL scouts at the testing combine earlier this week. He's one of nine players who weighed in at 300-plus. But as he discovered over the last two seasons at Mount A and learned in camp this week, there's more to playing offensive line than size and strength.

"At this level, especially at East-West this week, everyone is strong, everyone is quick. You have to rely on technique rather than just being able to outman a guy."

On the other hand, Munn is a quick study. He was first introduced to football by former Capital Area Minor Football Association president Terry McIntyre, joining the Northside Lions in bantam football as a Grade 8 student at Nashwaaksis Middle School. He played junior varsity ball at Leo Hayes before playing two years of varsity in front of Sacobie with the Lions.

The other Fredericton football product suiting up for the East is defensive tackle Ben Thompson, who will enter his fourth season with the McGill Redmen of the Quebec Intercollegiate Football Conference in the fall. He took the more traditional route, playing at Fredericton High School and being recruited to the Montreal school right from there.

Munn took a more circuitous route.He starred with the Gladiators - he was recently named to the league's "all-decade" second team in fact - and shopped around the various AUS schools before walking on and making the Mount A squad. He adjusted quickly to CIS football.

"The first couple of games were pretty fast," he remembered. "But you get into it after the first couple of games. You kind of get used to the speed after that first game."

Munn doesn't feel any pressure heading into this afternoon's game.

"I just want to do the best I can in the game," he said. "I don't know if too many scouts notice right now, but hopefully if I have a good game, I might get noticed, maybe. For me, it's a chance to measure myself against the best players, learn and go back and help the Mounties next season."

The Mounties have had a tough 21st century - they're 7-72 in this decade and are breaking in another new quarterback next season - but Munn is an example of the kind of individual talent they've been able to develop. Wide receiver Gary Ross was named the outstanding player in the AUS last season.

"I think we're moving in the right direction," said Munn. "We've got a lot of good young kids in now. We should be able to win a few games this year."

Munn, entering his third year and turning 26 later this year, is one of the "elder statesmen" in the program.

"I hear a couple of things about being the old guy and get teased a little bit about it, but it's all in good fun, I think," he said, chuckling.

It better be. He's big and strong and doesn't mind running over people.

He'll graduate with a business degree in 2012. Hindsight or not, he doesn't regret the hiatus before resuming his football career.

"Sometimes the body feels a bit sore after practice, maybe more than the younger guys," he said. "But I'm in a good situation now and I think our team is going in the right direction. I like all my teammates. I think it worked out well."

His parents, Keith and Gale, would agree. They'll be in the crowd at Waterhouse Stadium today. The West has dominated this series, winning six of seven previous games.