Manitoba bound: Bulldogs become Bisons

Two former Cowichan Bulldogs football players could be anchoring the University of Manitoba Bisons defensive line for years to come.

Two former Cowichan Bulldogs football players could be anchoring the University of Manitoba Bisons defensive line for years to come.

Travis McDonald and Brock Gowanlock have committed to attend the university and play CIS football for the Bisons. McDonald, who will redshirt next year, is heading there straight out of high school, while Gowanlock has spent the last two years playing junior football and is expected to jump right into the Bisons’ starting lineup.

The decision to head east to Manitoba wasn’t a hard one for either player.

“They have a great [football] program there, and they have what I want to take in university,” said McDonald, who is enrolled in the U of M agriculture program.

“Their football is good,” added Gowanlock, who will begin working on a BA, although he isn’t yet sure what his concentration will be. “Obviously it’s a great program, they’ve got great facilities. And the school met my academic standards.”

McDonald will graduate from Cowichan Secondary School this year, two years after Gowanlock concluded his studies. Gowanlock spent the last two summers playing junior football for the Langley Rams.

“That was really good,” he said. “I enjoyed my experience there.”

Last year, Gowanlock attended the B.C. Lions evaluation camp, where he was one of the two youngest players ever invited. He has three more years of junior eligibility, but thought it would benefit him more to jump to the university ranks.

“There are more opportunities for all the CFL teams to take a look, and I can get a degree,” he said.

McDonald had been mulling over the possibility of playing junior for the Vancouver Island Raiders, but the chance to go straight to university was too good to turn down.

“I just got the offer and I thought I might as well go for it,” he said.

A year apart in age, McDonald and Gowanlock played together for the Bulldogs for about five or six seasons, the last time two years ago, and they are looking forward to being reunited in Manitoba.

“It will be like old days, I guess,” McDonald said.

It will be nice to have a familiar face around, they admitted, but that didn’t play a role in either player’s decision to join the Bisons.

“It’s always good to have someone from your hometown to chat with and play with,” Gowanlock said.

Bisons head coach Brian Dobie has done a lot of recruiting in B.C. and suspects that he may know football in this province better than any university coach, other than those at UBC and Simon Fraser, and even he was surprised to snag two players in the same position from the same relatively small community in one recruiting class.

“It’s a positive statement that the people who are working with the kids there are doing some very positive things,” Dobie said.

For all their obvious similarities — both defensive linemen, both from Duncan — Dobie emphasizes that they are very different players.

“Travis is raw, and he missed playing last season with an injury,” Dobie pointed out. “It’s a positive statement that we went after him despite the fact that he didn’t play football a year ago. You look at his height, his frame and his shoulders, and you see film of him: a guy that size moving the way he was, and there’s some rawness to him, for sure, but with that combination of athleticism with his body structure, you go, ‘this kid is worth taking a chance on.’”

Gowanlock, Dobie said, is the opposite.

Gowanlock was Manitoba’s No. 1 recruit in the nation as the Bisons sought to replace David Onyemata, who appears destined for the NFL.

“We are going to lose the best player, the best pro prospect in the nation, to the NFL,” Dobie said. “In preparing for that, we recruited Brock for essentially two years. Brock comes ready-made. The Langley Rams have done a fantastic job of furthering Brock’s development.”

Over the phone from Winnipeg, Dobie said he was smiling when asked if he would keep an eye on the Cowichan Bulldogs in the future.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” he said, noting that Mount Douglas in Victoria gradually became a recruiting hotbed for his team for very similar reasons. “As soon as you have success with a school or a community, you don’t close the book, you open the book.”

In an unusual twist, both Gowanlock and McDonald could end up playing their first games in Bisons jerseys just a short drive from where they grew up, as Manitoba and UBC are scheduled to play an exhibition game in Langford on Aug. 26.